Crafting an Artist Statement

Lenivec (flickr)

The language of artists and designers is visual. Color, light, composition, texture, and dimension are the paragraphs and punctuation of our stories. Yet, working artists and college-bound creatives also need to rely on words to communicate our creative goals and vision.

That’s where an artist statement comes in. These useful tools help audiences’ access and understand the why behind our artistry. And, for many applying to college art programs, artist statements are an essential part of the application process.

So how do you create one and what should it include?

book of life, david kracov

Think It Through
Begin with some genuine self-examination. Artist statements are an introduction to your work. They explain your inspiration and your approach to making. Start by answering some tough questions:

  • What are you trying to express through your work?
  • What keeps you coming back to it day after day?
  • What influences you? (This could be anything from other artists to social issues, etc.)
  • What themes do you have running through your work?
  • What medium do you work in and why? What materials are essential to your toolbox?

Write It Down
Follow these few tips when putting pen to paper:

What to Write

  • Address why you create what you create
  • Be personal
  • Talk about your goals and what you hope to achieve through your art
  • Explain your choice of materials and your techniques
  • Share what you’re trying to communicate

monks cradle 2, tommy olaughlin and patrick dougherty

How to Write It

  • Be clear and honest
  • Write in the first person, using “I” instead of “you”
  • Be concise; 50-100 words is enough for a college statement
  • Stay away from clichés and artistic jargon
  • Don’t summarize your resume
  • Remember, this is about your work, not you

Crafting a well-written artist statement is a difficult yet very valuable exercise. Your written description will become an important link between you and your audience. And after you’ve presented it as part of your college admissions you can amend it for any future gallery or show submissions.

Northeastern University: Create Your Own Path

CAMD students

CAMD students

Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media & Design (CAMD) takes creative education to a new level. There are more great things to say about this program than can easily fit into one blog. Seriously. I’ve been researching the program for a family and just had to share my findings with you.

Beginning with the basics, Northeastern (NU) has almost 18,000 undergraduates, with 2,000 of them enrolled in CAMD. What’s unique here is the combination of available educational options. They lead to a plethora of opportunities, especially benefitting those who want to create their own path. Within the college students can graduate with a single major, two double majors, or combine two half majors. Huh? Yep! Undergraduates can explore and intertwine two passions – two half majors – and accumulate more credits than with one major, but fewer than doubling up.

The university is focused on experiential learning; getting up, out of your seat, and becoming involved. Students across all departments are required to engage in at least one form of experiential education:

  • Barcelona architecture

    Barcelona architecture

    Cooperative education (co-op) typically takes one semester. Students can co-op three times, providing up to 18 months of real-world education. Aspiring artists and designers gain professional hands-on experience. They engage with industry leaders, explore careers, and begin building their career paths.

  • Service learning creates opportunities for students to apply their creative skill set to the greater community, and vice versa. They become active participants, utilizing their newly gained artistic capabilities while furthering social justice.
  • CAMD students also have the opportunity to create individual research projects. Here they can take a deep dive into a singular focus with a faculty member, a group of peers, or on their own.
  • Study abroad offers a whole host of opportunities. Beyond spending a semester studying the Medici’s artistic influence in Florence or fashion in France, students can take a co-op, service learning, or research project abroad. Sign me up!!

Designers also have Scout, an on-campus student-led design studio giving them access to real clients as they solve real design problems.

Northeastern University

Northeastern University

Design, Game Design, and Media Arts majors earn BFAs. Studio Art majors graduate with a BFA through a partnership with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA). (A program note: beginning this fall SMFA will become part of Tufts University. I don’t yet know how this will affect the Studio Arts major at NU.) Other CAMD majors graduate with a BA. Portfolios are required for the BFA in Studio Art and are optional for other majors.

CAMD prides itself on educating and molding its students into engaged and vibrant makers, and ensuring that each one has a perspective of place in the global environment. I hope you go check it out.

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Waiting Out The Waitlist

It’s April. That means the deadline has come and gone. All results are in. Yeah! Or, perhaps not.

There are only three answers to the college admission question. Two are definitive. One leaves you and your teen hanging. The “yes’s” are invigorating. (They like me; they really like me!) The “no’s” can be crushing. The dreaded waitlist just sits there like a lump in your stomach.

AIGA design archives

AIGA design archives

The Facts
The reality is, more students apply to any individual college than can ever be accepted. Simultaneously, every institution has its own unique goals and priorities. The demographics, artistic ability, majors, GPA, etc. of each incoming freshmen class needs to meet those goals. Taryn Wolf, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at MICA, shared that MICA was on the Common App for the first time this year. Consequently, their application numbers were way up. That’s good for the college and the class as a whole; it just makes the waiting game tougher.

Sadly, choices of who is accepted may sometimes come down to the fact that a college is looking for more illustrators than industrial design majors this year. It’s not personal, although that rarely makes anyone feel any better.

Managing The Wait
So, how do you and your teen master the dreadful waitlist experience with the least amount of stress? It’s a three-step process, with the last one requiring time, dedication, and patience.

stamps logoStart by accepting an offer of admission. Congratulations! You’ve got a kid in college! Make sure to get your deposit in by May 1st, National College Enrollment Deposit Day. Second, I’d encourage your teen to communicate with those schools he won’t be attending. A polite thank you, but no thank you is greatly appreciated (and it may help someone else gain acceptance from that waitlist!)

Then it’s time to get proactive. Staying on a waitlist begins with a response. Karina Moore is the Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management at University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art & Design (Stamps). She put it clearly, “students must take action and accept the offer in order to be placed on the waitlist.” Then, your teen needs to get busy demonstrating how and why he should be accepted for enrollment.

Knowledge is power. Once he’s on the list get your teen to contact his admissions representative and inquire why he was waitlisted. GPA too low? Dedicated interest not apparent? Listen to the reply and respond accordingly.

Keep Calm waitingColleges welcome and often encourage sending in updates. But please don’t bombard them! Updating a file with solid GPA improvements, a new achievement, a mentor’s recommendations, or new artwork is appropriate. Encourage your daughter to build a website of her new work and send the link. Even better: go visit the school. She should make an appointment with her rep while on campus. Hand delivering that additional work provides an opportunity for greater interaction and a personal pitch of the value she’ll bring to campus. Taryn was encouraging here as well; “the interest and enthusiasm that some students are showing will be meaningful,” when it comes to accepting students off the list.

The waitlist process is different for each college and sometimes each program. Stamps has its own procedure which means your teen isn’t on the same list as those seeking acceptance into other University of Michigan departments. Students waitlisted there are encouraged to email new accomplishments and creative work to stamps-admissions@umich.eduMICA-hopeful students should contact the college for a direct email address.

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More College Tour Tips for Visual Artists

Boston College

Boston College

Teenage artists and designers are like everyone else this time of year. They’re anxious for spring and the accompanying warmer weather that gets everyone outside. I’d suggest guiding – and prodding if necessary – those thoughts of outdoor escape towards touring colleges. Spring break and summer are optimal times to explore as a family.

I’ve toured a lot of colleges and universities, and have found these few fundamental tips can turn touring time into very worthwhile experiences. Share them with your teen ahead of time and you’ll have some very successful touring!

Ask questions. In information sessions, while on tour, and of anyone you see. Remember that tour guides are paid cheerleaders. Listen to them, but keep in mind that random students will give you their unbiased view. Professors will have a completely different perspective. (For what it’s worth, parents are the ones asking most of the college tour questions. Getting your teen to speak up will keep them engaged and get noticed by admissions reps. File that under demonstrating interest!)

Take the tour! Getting oriented will help you and your teen visualize the layout of the land. How far is the dorm from the studio? Is the campus integrated into the surrounding city? Or does it have a defined border?

University of Washington textile studio

University of Washington textile studio

Get lost. As an avid traveller, I often find the most wonderful gems when not on a planned tour. The same rule applies to wandering around college campuses. I’d pay special attention to studio spaces; your teen will be spending the majority of her time there. Make sure to include off-campus spots too.

Document it. This is the voice of experience here. Even if you only visit one campus at a time, you will mix places up. I guarantee it! Make sure your teen records his thoughts and impressions with words and photos. You can thank me later.

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Carnegie Mellon University: School of Art

School of ArtHere is a simple truth: The more you do something the better you become at doing it.

A college drawing professor of mine taught this principle well. His homework assignments required drawing, drawing, and then some more drawing. Friends of mine who weren’t art majors would walk down the dorm hallway many nights with comments of “man, you have a lot of work.” (Yes, but let’s save that for another conversation.)

500 drawings - 2Andrew Johnson, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) School of Art knows this to be true as well. He challenges the school’s freshmen to create 500 drawings over one weekend in the fall. He even provides the pizza. My hand is cramping just thinking about drawing that intensely, but what an outstanding way to strengthen your skill set while developing your craft.

The School of Art (SOA) is an interdisciplinary program. Students study across four concentrated areas and are not required to focus on just one.

  • Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, and Photography
  • Electronic and Time-Based Media
  • Sculpture, Installation and Site Installation
  • Contextual Practice

It’s that interconnectivity – within the arts – and with non-studio academic courses as well that separates this program from others. BFA graduates earn a comprehensive education and a broader understanding of what it’s like to be working artists.

Study consists of conceptual studios and media-based courses. Foundation classes are spread out during the first three semesters on campus and are media focused, providing students the chance to independently immerse themselves into clay, wood, painting, animation, etc. Advanced studios begin during the spring of sophomore year.

Upperclassmen studio space

Upperclassmen studio space

Senior year focuses on independent studio work. Four faculty members team-teach and students are free to choose the concepts and media they wish to explore. The primary goal is to develop a body of work across both semesters.

Like its sister program, gaining acceptance into SOA is competitive. 50% of acceptance decisions are portfolio driven. Mark Cato, SOA Assistant Head, told me that the ideal student “should consider art and art history in society, work should be conceptually based, and they should be open to a broad exposure of different media types.”

For those interested in tapping into even more of the best of CMU, I’d suggest considering the university’s BXA Interdisciplinary Degree. Here’s the chance to combine a humanities, science, or social science degree with an arts degree. Students must be accepted into both schools independently. But the reward is the chance to explore and develop your own approach to interdisciplinary studies.

Is design more your style? Learn about CMU’s School of Design.