College portfolios give visual art students chance to showcase their work

photo: Caroline Smith

photo: Caroline Smith

College applications: looming over nearly every high school senior, they’re the beginning of the end of a high school career. However, while most students are working on the Common App and their essays, a handful of PHS seniors have another aspect to consider: supplementary art portfolios. Many schools—both art schools and normal schools—have options for students to submit an art portfolio: a showcase of their artistic career. Although specific requirements differ from school to school, the general idea is for a board of admissions to get to know an applicant as an artist.

Victoria Gebert ’15 is submitting art portfolios to several schools that recommend a supplementary portfolio without too many specifics. “Most schools I’m applying to just require a broad, optional art supplement,” Gebert said.

For her, it’s not about creating new art—it’s about compiling the old. Working primarily in three dimensions, Gebert is taking photos of her pieces to submit to schools. “That should usually be something that you’ve been in the process of doing for the past four years,” she said. “I would never make something without documenting it afterwards, because you never know.”

Gebert also attributes her cataloguing to the unpredictable lifespan of her work. “I also get very destructive, so my work ends up getting very damaged, if not thrown away,” she said.

While Gebert’s portfolio is made up of photographs of her work, those of other students consist of work in other mediums. Jordan Hunter ’15, who is applying to several film schools, was quick to cite the variety of works needed for a film portfolio. “There … [are] video requirements, photo requirements, and there are written résumés of things I’ve done. The videos can span from 90 seconds to 15 minutes, depending on the college,” Hunter said. “And … if you don’t want to give them videos … [they] will take just photos.”

However, unlike Gebert, who is more or less compiling work from her entire high school career, Hunter is still in the process of creating. “I had this idea for making a music video, because I’ve done Claymation recently. I’ve done live action, like a drama, [and] I’ve done funny little things,” they said. “Pretty much I’m just trying out everything, and I will take … clips to send to colleges.”

Overall, though, both portfolios in both art forms will encompass a wide assortment of works and showcase the artists’ range.

In addition to being an incredibly involved process, art schools can be very selective. “Most of the programs I’m going to [have student populations of] 60 or 70, and they have 500 to 700 kids applying yearly with very impressive portfolios and résumés,” Hunter said. “Basically, it’s extremely, extremely, extremely competitive.”


photo: Sarah Gavis-Hughson

As a result, picking a school has a very different meaning for film students. “A lot of people … have determined their colleges based on [questions like], ‘Oh, is it this campus size?’ … My requirements are, ‘Do they have a film program? Okay, I’m applying there,’ because [of] the likelihood of me getting in,” Hunter said.

Arts schools can be not only extremely competitive but also unique in their admissions strategy. “It’s much less quantifiable. It’s not an SAT score; they don’t have some sort of ruler which they can use to just measure your work on a scale of, ‘This is good, and this is bad,’” Gebert said. “Something you love can be amazing because you love it, and art is really hard to judge, but you have to find the middle ground between something you really love and something that a panel of judges at that school will [like].”

According to Hunter, a bit of compromise can be appropriate at times, but you shouldn’t lose your voice for the sake of pleasing—you should stay true to what’s important to you.“I really want [to represent] … trans people,” they said.

As overwhelming as the whole process can be, there are opportunities to get the feedback and support of others. “There’s a portfolio day in most big cities across the country,” Gebert said. “Basically, every big art school or great art department sets up tables in this huge open area, and you can go up and you get a review. They tell you, ‘Wow, you need to show more variety,’ or less variety, or something like that.”

While there’s family and peer feedback, at the end of the day, a portfolio lies in the hands of the artist. “You really have to pick the pieces that mean something to you,” Gebert said. “I read this one really great quote once that said, ‘Pick the pieces that you made at 2 a.m. and you couldn’t go to sleep before finishing … because you were just so passionate.’ Even if it’s a super random piece that doesn’t fit into your portfolio, that’s the kind you want to include because that shows the greatest potential.”

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