The Sophomore Slump: 4 Tips To Keep Your Visual Artist Focused In High School

Typically referring to college, the sophomore slump can just as easily take place in high school. Even though high school has become a familiar place for your teen, now is no time to chill out. Colleges take sophomore year efforts and grades seriously. Your budding artist should too. So, how do you ensure that your teen avoids a second-year slump? A little bit of focus goes a long way.

Maintain your attention on grades. Colleges consider high school coursework and grades more telling than anything in their selection process. That being said, take note of the classes your teen is taking. Is she stretching herself artistically and academically? The most advanced studio and non-studio classes all have prerequisites. Honors Drawing and Painting preclude Studio Art and Independent Study just as Global History precludes AP U.S. Government. Now’s the time to reassess and refocus to ensure your burgeoning designer is on task to achieve her goals. Your high school guidance counselor and art teachers can help tweak her schedule and focus if needed.

NY Times

NY Times

Get ready for the SAT. Those bedeviling proficiency tests are looming. Whether an art school or university is in your creative’s future, taking them is necessary, and now is the time to get practicing. The PSAT and PLAN provide your teen with an introduction to the SAT and ACT exams respectively. These “practice” tests deliver real value: they lessen fears by getting your teen acquainted with what is unfamiliar and they convey an idea of the score range your teen can expect in next year’s real exams. Additionally, the PSAT is used to determine National Merit Scholarship awards. The PSAT and PLAN are typically taken in October. Check with your college counselor to know when your tests will be offered.

sophomore-yearEngage with your teen. Discover what he wants to study in college and uncover the type of college experience he envisions. Is a BFA or a BA the desired end result? The decision will impact the type of school he chooses. Does he prefer a large campus experience with a diverse student body and non-stop activities or will he thrive best in an environment that breathes art and design 24/7? Visiting colleges will give you and your student a sense for campus life as well as begin to define preferences for size and location. Pick diverse colleges to visit, make a plan about when you’ll tour, and use those long car drives to discuss his likes and dislikes.

Portfolio prep (c) ashcan school

Portfolio prep (c) ashcan school

Focus on portfolio development. This should be a top priority throughout high school regardless of where your teen applies. Many programs don’t require a portfolio for admission, but you’ll want to be prepared for either option. Also, just like muscles, repeated development and practice of artistic skills will only strengthen them. Your teen should be working with high school art teachers and engaging in outside artistic opportunities to broaden his abilities. Here the adage “practice makes perfect” definitely applies.

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5 Tips From Portfolio Day

Portfolio Day review

Portfolio Day review

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to observe Portfolio Day, up close and in person. What a great experience!

Sitting alongside Thom Glick, CCAD’s Associate Director of Admissions, I witnessed first-hand, how beneficial the advice and guidance of a good counselor can be. Thom will be offering up his own portfolio guidelines for burgeoning creatives in a future blog post, but for now I wanted to share my take on a few of the tips he handed out for those working on their portfolios.

1 – Try to focus your work. Most colleges are looking to see your skill level as well as your passion. If you concentrate your work in the areas you’re most passionate about, admissions personnel will be better able to guide you towards a more successful college path.

2 – Work to develop your own voice. This sounds easy, but takes time and dedication. It’s about expressing what you see and how you see it. We all have artists, artwork, and design styles that influence us. Creating your own voice begins with finding the multiple influencers that speak to you, then interpreting them, and incorporating that interpretation into your own work. Thom Glick said it clearly. “Don’t copy exactly what you see; find multiple influences, make them yours and your style will develop.” Clara Lieu is a visual artist and Adjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. She describes it this way; “the best way to find your own individual style is to try out as many different ways of working as possible.”

3 – Having a theme can be a good idea. That doesn’t mean paint only trees, but maybe nature and scenery in different seasons, from different perspectives, created using different mediums. Stretch yourself. Nature can also be portrayed as a hurricane-damaged environment or new growth after a wildfire. Consistency shows planning and forethought which means you’re filtering and thinking strategically. Admissions personnel and professors love to see those traits and skills.

4Your work doesn’t need to be finished. Well, not all of it at least. But including unfinished work actually shows professors how you think, how you process, and what draws you to a subject matter. Besides that, your goal is to attend college so you can perfect your artistic skills. They don’t need to be perfect when you walk in the door.

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

5Review your portfolio. And as you do, ask yourself does this reflect my interests? Does it line up with what I want to study and create? If fashion design is your thing and you only draw static items (think: classroom still life) you’re not expressing what sits at the core of fashion: people and clothing that move. Taken a step further, you’re also not expressing your stated interest. That sends a conflicting message to those reviewing your portfolio.

For objective advice and counseling, Portfolio Day is a slam dunk! Sophomores, juniors and seniors can all benefit from the time invested. Find one near your neck of the woods, grab your portfolio, and go visit. You won’t regret it.

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AP Scores: From The Inside Looking Out

In an earlier post I discussed AP Art History and AP Studio Art courses from the student perspective; whether or not you should take them, and what you get out of them.  Since that writing I’ve had the chance to research and talk with several art and design program admissions counselors to get their perspectives on the value of APs.  What I’ve found are parallel yet varied viewpoints.  Each school sets its own value on AP courses and each has a nuanced reason for that applied value.

Those who accept AP course credits equate them to courses taken at another college; they’re categorized as transfer credits.  Each AP course taken translates into 3 – 5 credit hours (depending upon the institution) that you’ve already completed.  Depending upon the type of AP you take – studio or academic – you’ll need fewer credits in that area of study in college.

MICA

MICA

Each school has a maximum number of transfer credits allowed per student.  Most likely you won’t hit that limit. Take Maryland Institute College of Art for example.  For academic AP courses with a score of four or five, they’ll accept a maximum of nine transfer credits.  That’s equivalent to three academic electives.  AP Studio scores also need to be a four or five, and are only accepted for art electives.  The difference is there isn’t a limit on the quantity of AP Studio credits that are accepted.  From talking with Taryn Wolf, MICA Director of Admission, I learned that applicants often take different AP Studio courses multiple years in a row.  The benefit of taking all those studio courses?  Well, besides fine-tuning your craft, they’ll help you create a portfolio theme.  And as Taryn explained further, “our higher scholarship winners have a cohesive work portfolio, usually with a theme, idea or style running through their work.” AP Studio courses provide the chance to develop your consistent theme or style.  The opportunity to win a scholarship is an added bonus; reducing the cost of your college tuition.

Ringling College of Art + Design

Ringling College of Art + Design

I haven’t found any schools that will accept AP Studio coursework in place of Foundation classes.  At Ringling College of Art & Design students are required to take all their studio courses on campus as well.  Eric Kaster, Assistant Dean of Admissions, likes the focus and discipline students acquire from taking AP Studio courses.  “However,” he adds, “ours is a very structured and stair step curriculum, and students who become exempt from studio classes often are missing critical learning practices necessary to their success at Ringling.”  AP academic courses with a score of four or higher in English Language/Composition and English Literature/Composition are accepted for academic course replacement.  All other academic AP courses are accepted with a score of three or higher.

Columbus College of Art & Design

Columbus College of Art & Design

Columbus College of Art & Design requires an AP Studio test score of five to be considered for elective credit, and a three or higher for academic courses.  Admissions Counselor Mike Bonardi explains how the credits are applied.  “Within studio art AP credit is transferred to required electives and not directly to a particular class.  Academic AP credit is transferred over directly to a required course where applicable. Otherwise [the student] will be awarded three academic elective credits.”  Again, when it comes to AP Studio the emphasis is placed on the value received from taking the course.  “Even if they have not met the score requirement it gives them a leg up with portfolio requirements,” added Freshman Admissions Officer Thom Glick.

Last week I profiled California Institute of the ArtsCalifornia Institute of the Arts.  CalArts is a very different school.  It attracts students who – almost exclusively – want a future built more around the theory, definitions and relationships of art rather than its technical applications.  According to Admissions Counselor Brian Gershey, they are “more interested in the creative content of work done in an AP Studio course” and less interested in final AP scores, giving the student’s portfolio and its accompanying statement the most importance.  That doesn’t preclude students from obtaining credit for top AP Studio scores, but it speaks to the emphasis placed on them in admission decisions.

From my findings, those on the inside looking out believe AP courses are worthwhile.  The many benefits include gained knowledge, skills and focus while still in high school.  To an admissions counselor that translates into a mature student, ready for the challenges and opportunities college will bring.  Add to that the potential financial benefits that accompany AP work and it seems like an easy choice to me.

To AP or not to AP?

That is the question for many high school art students.

AP Studio Art and AP Art History are available on many high school campuses.  So, should you sign up for them?  The short answer is: yes!  But let’s get to why.  For those serious about attending an art and design program, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college level classes – backed by the College Board  – which you can take while still in high school.  At the end of the year students are required to submit a portfolio to the AP review board (Studio Art) or take an AP exam (Art History).

Moored, by CCAD alum Bev Darwin; http://bevdarwinstudios.blogspot.com/

Moored, by CCAD alum Bev Darwin; http://bevdarwinstudios.blogspot.com/

AP Studio Art students create a high quality, college-level portfolio which can then be used as part of a college application.  This challenging and rigorous course is available in three formats; drawing, two-dimension (2-D) and three-dimension (3-D).  It offers advanced art students the opportunity to focus on one medium or area during an entire school year.  Each completed portfolio is required to address three sections; quality, concentration and breadth.  The AP review board is looking for proficiency, an area of focus and exploration, and the extent of your understanding of artistic principles like composition, contrast and balance.  Drawing and 2-D design portfolios require actual artwork submitted as part of the AP exam; the 3-D format only accepts digital images of created work.

AP Art History leads to an understanding of the purpose art plays in society, an appreciation for the process of creating and displaying art, and the ability to analyze it.  The path you’ll take to understanding includes study of an enormous range of art and artifacts.  You’ll analyze early Pre-Columbian, Greek and Roman Art, learn to discern the differences between Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque Art, study cultural and religious influences of Asian and Indian art, and observe the changing art styles and subject matter of the 20th – 21st centuries.  Course resources include Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Janson’s History of Art, Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing About Art, and many more.  (Believe it or not I still have my copies Janson and Gardner.)  You’ll finish the course with a broad understanding of art throughout the ages.  It will truly open your eyes!

Taking both courses clearly shows that you’re ready to learn at an advanced level.  It confirms your commitment to art and your willingness to push yourself by taking some of the most challenging high school courses available.  Additional benefits include the possibility of skipping equivalent-level college classes, substituting foundations or electives, or even graduating early.  The latter might make mom and dad happiest since graduating early means less money spent on college.

AP courses require planning.  With the goal of creating a stellar portfolio you’ll want to enroll in as many studio classes as possible before you sign up for AP Studio Art.  Your high school should have plenty, but don’t overlook other opportunities.  Portfolio submissions may include work done over a year or longer, in or outside of class. Translation: take local community art courses as well as those available during the summer at a local art school; your work can count towards your portfolio.

A potential downside to consider is that many colleges don’t accept AP credits.  So, while you’re planning ahead, do some research into who accepts them and who doesn’t.  That way you won’t get your heart broken after you’ve fallen in love with a school.

Lastly, if your high school doesn’t offer AP courses, don’t worry.  Online opportunities exist.  Start your research on the College Board site.  Your high school art teachers should be great resources as well.

I won’t be putting up my regular posts during the next couple of weeks due to the holiday season, but check back at the beginning of January, I’m hoping to continue this conversation and include insights from college admission counselors.

Art School or University Education: The Conversation Begins

Michael Bonardi, admissions officer for Columbus College of Art & Design, visited the AP Studio Art class at Bexley High School in Bexley, Ohio a few weeks ago.  He advised students on how to build their portfolios, spoke about the variety of creative programs available at CCAD, and gave students a sense of what it would be like to attend an independent college of art and design in Columbus.  To me, one of the most memorable nuggets he handed out had to do with attending a school where everyone is an art student.  Think about it.  Attending a school where everyone is like you.  They’re all artists.  They think creatively, have similar interests, and are passionate about the world of art – just like you.  It might be what you want, it might not.  But, when you’re deciding whether you want to attend an art and design school or an art program in a larger university – that is a huge differentiator.