Art School Personal Essay Ideas

During the Portfolio Redefined event last week, we heard from a lot of teachers that information on writing for college admissions and examples of admissions essays would be helpful. Here are some tips, requirement examples, guidelines for getting started, and essay examples.

Any feedback, comments and requests are welcome!

WRITING FOR YOUR PORTFOLIOGreat advice from Carolina Wheat, Director of Admissions for Parsons

Statement/Essay

1. Represent yourself through text

2. Use words you are comfortable using

3. Discuss your process

4. Please do not begin the essay “I always knew I wanted to be an artist”

 

ARTIST STATEMENT REQUIREMENT EXAMPLES

Parsons

What do you make, how do you make it, and why do you make? Ultimately, where do you visualize your creative abilities and academic study to take you after your education here at Parsons? (Maximum 500 words.)

SVA

In 500 words or less, discuss your reasons for pursuing undergraduate study in the visual arts. Feel free to include any information about yourself, as well as your goals and interests that may not be immediately apparent from the review of your transcripts or portfolio.

Pratt

Describe when and how you became interested in art, design, writing, architecture, or the particular major to which you are applying. Describe how this interest has manifested itself in your daily life.

FIT

What makes you a perfect candidate for FIT? Why are you interested in the major you are applying to? The essay is also your chance to tell us more about your experiences, activities and accomplishments.

 

 Questions to Get you Started

Begin the process of writing your essay for college admissions by answering these questions for yourself in your sketchbook.  

Tell the truth & the more you write for each question the better.

– Why you do like to make art?

– What materials, themes and CONCEPTS do you use? Why?

– What do you see in your work / What do other people see? (ask friends and family)

– What inspires you?

– What are your goals and aspirations as an artist?

– What schools are you interested in and why?

– What does your work actually look like? Describe one work as an example!

– What do you want to do in the future?

When you’ve answered these questions try to organized them into an outline, or 3 separate paragraphs. Once you’ve organized start to use your answers to make structured sentences. Answering the questions is an exercise to get you writing about your art. Your final essay does not have to include any of your answers verbatim, or it can. 

Make sure that someone else looks over your essay. It is easy to miss mistakes when it’s your own writing. And feedback on how you can improve is always great. 

 

ARTIST STATEMENT EXAMPLES by accepted students 

ARTIST STATEMENT EXAMPLE for Parsons by Tiffany 

To be able to excavate the bones of ideas that link humanity in one common whole – it is a beautiful, life-long driven process.

I am keen to my surroundings, expecting beauty in the most trivial aspects of daily life. As people head toward their offices, open the bus terminal doors for the people behind them, and dart across the street as the sign signals an alarming red- it is a gift to be able to observe certain gestures expressed by strangers and acquaintances. I will often take the opportunity to absorb the details of the lives of those other than myself. I search there for new inspiration – it is a search to synchronize the heart rhythms of strangers through my artwork.

With the start of an art piece, I begin by wondering how to capture my life and thoughts in a way that creates a private bond with each onlooker. The ultimate purpose of my artwork is for the viewer to reflect upon their lives and remember emotions they have experienced. Through the work it becomes possible to comprehend the similarities we share as human beings.

One aspect of my work that is effective in evoking a sense of commonality is childhood nostalgia. My unique childhood has formed my character as I was intimately exposed to different cultures – South Korea, China, and the United States. As I resided for several years in each of the three countries, I accumulated knowledge through learning the diverse languages, colors, food, clothing, and mannerisms of these countries. Seeing the differences opened my eyes and altered the approaches I take toward exploring the unfamiliar.

I have developed ideas for a few of my favorite art pieces from my most valued childhood memories, with the hopes to share these fortunate experiences – the time I tied a rope around my pet baby chick’s leg and explored the playground, and the exciting elevator ride with my brother with stacks of soda in our hands. Handcrafted with sculpey and painted with acrylic paint, the sculptures of those memories evoke a sense of nostalgia and excitement with their vibrant colors.

The seemingly simple vibrancy of my work is balanced with structural stability. One example is the sculptural piece titled “Thinking Outside of the Box” which is intended to be ironic because the brain-shaped structure is built with wired boxes. I placed a light bulb in the center encasing it in a mirror-walled box to depict the flash of a new idea as its light fails to pass beyond it’s walls. This piece portrays the human mind as it fails to improve on an idea because of other shortsighted and entrapping thoughts. Such fallacy is a human characteristic that is universally shared.

My search for similarities among humanity has become increasingly simple as my empathy and compassion has grown. As I learn an individual’s story, I aspire to serve as a medium, expressing certain qualities with my creative work. Each person reflects back to me humanity’s common ground.

 

ARTIST STATEMENT EXAMPLE for SVA by Eleanor 

Many people have told me that I have a restless personality, which I believe to be true. I constantly seek experiences that will make me feel alive. Maybe this why I do the things that I do. I love hiking and traveling, especially to places that seem untouched by man. Most of my inspiration comes from that moment when I absorb the spectrum of beauty in front of me through my eyes. I process the thoughts that subsequently run through my head, and when it is released through every pore of my body, I recreate the feelings through my art.

Even asleep, my thoughts are seeking and restless in the sense that when I have fallen into a deep slumber, and I am no longer physically mobile, my thoughts turn to dreams.  When I am asleep my dreams are either rather disturbing or mysterious and serene. It seems that most people forget their dreams when they awake, but I remember my vivid dreams clearly, as if they were memories from waking life. I am not afraid to show, through my illustrations, what my dreams reveal to me; what I desire, what offends me and scares me. By using my dreams as inspiration I feel unlimited in expressing myself.

I never questioned that I would pursue a future in the field of Illustration because when I am drawing and painting I feel the most comfort. Whether I am reading a book, hiking, taking a picture, or even listening to music, it always leads me into the depths of my mind, and I know that the thoughts will eventually translate into an illustration. I have discovered that art has no boundaries, and that there is no better means to capture the imagery that I create in my head.

Although my ideas come to me most often when I am by myself, I am a very social person, and I am inspired by other creative people. I need to be constantly surrounded by individuals who will fuel this. There is no better way to ensure that I will be, than to attend an art school full of diverse yet creative students.

The School of Visual Arts is a school that has many qualities that suit me. The faculty at SVA is impressive, and the effort that SVA makes to look for artistic minds, by visiting places such as Ashcan Studio, really caught my attention. I am also impressed by SVA student work. During a SVA admissions counselor’s presentation, I was able to see examples of projects by SVA students and they were all inspiring.  Some of the works held me in a trance. I was in awe and often had the chills on my skin when looking at some of the work. If the students at SVA are making such outstanding work, then I know that the school has a lot to offer me.

 

ARTIST STATEMENT EXAMPLE  by Helena 

I feel that have two identities. Outside of my home I live under the name Helena Juhee Kim, while at home I am my parents’ rebellious teenage daughter, Juhee Kim. Throughout my life I have struggled to define my identity. I have had difficulty figuring myself out, who I represent in this society. However, since my entrance in to high school I have realized that my whole life revolves around art. It has taken me back to the very beginning of my life. I recall that it was art that made me feel happy and complete as a child. It was what I loved.

I believe that all artwork has a purpose. It tells a story. When you see an artwork it is as if it’s trying to whisper the artists story to you. Art does not have to be a visual image. To me, art can be a story. I often come up with new creative ideas through telling stories with words. Words are a very powerful tool to express messages and fantasies. For me, however, words are not enough—if there is a story then there must be an image to portray its meanings. I want visually illustrate it. Images can be mysterious in ways that words are not. Art reveals the artist, the type of person he or she is—not only with the way an artist uses color, their line making and style, but also through the core concept the artist focuses on. It interests me that a certain topic or story can be so essential to a person that they had to make it into art.

My junior year in high school year I made the decision to pursue illustration as a career. Attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York definitely played a role in finding my interest among the many majors of art. As a junior I decided to take the classes Illustration and Mural. It was my toughest year, as I had personal issues in addition to academic stresses. Art helped me get through these hardships. It pulled me out from my distress. Moreover, it made me love and understand ‘art’ better. In the end, it was art that helped me grow as a person. It was then I understood what it truly meant to be an artist.

Through my many struggle in life, art is what saves me. In the end it all comes down to what I truly want to pursue in life—in the future, what I see myself doing and love being involved in. Art makes me realize that there is a purpose for everyone. And I believe that by going to an art college my love of art will flourish even more, as I get closer to my dream and start anew to become even a better artist.

 

 

 

 

 

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Without question, the most common place for writers to exercise their freedom in personal statements, as well as the most common place where writers feel uncertain about what they’ve done, is in their beginnings. Even personal statements that are scientific in tone and content might have creative beginnings. Although there’s nothing wrong with a straightforward opening simply stating your purpose, especially if you have just one page for your essay, most writers take a bolder tack. Readers of personal statements are used to openings that tell stories or borrow quotations, essays that discuss relevant current events, and even daring writers who risk a bit of well-conceived humor or surprise.

Personal Stories

As the most common creative beginning, a personal story tells a tale by briefly setting a scene, often capturing some formative moment of your past when your interest in your course of study blossomed. Whether setting the scene in a classroom or on a mountaintop, remember that your goal is make readers feel they are there with you, and remember that the setting itself can be a character in your “short story”—influencing both the action and a response to that action.

Here is a perfect example of a lengthy creative beginning that winds its way into a formal thesis statement, excerpted from a Rhodes Scholarship essay in Chapter 5:

Soaked in sweat, I sat deep in thought on the small mound of sand and broken rocks in northern Kenya, where 1.7 million years ago a desperately ill Homo erectus woman had died. Her death had entranced me for years. KNM-ER 1808 had died of Hypervitaminosis A, wherein an overdose of Vitamin A causes extensive hemorrhaging throughout the skeleton and excruciating pain. Yet a thick rind of diseased bone all over her skeleton—ossified blood clots—tells that 1808 lived for weeks, even months, immobilized by pain and in the middle of the African bush. As noted in The Wisdom of the Bones, by Walker and Shipman, that means that someone had cared for her, brought her water, food, and kept away predators. At 1.7 million years of age, 1808’s mere pile of bones is a breathtaking, poignant glimpse of how people have struggled with disease over the ages. Since that moment two summers ago, I’ve been fascinated by humans’ relationship with disease. I want to research paleopathology, the study of ancient diseases, in relation to human culture, specifically sex and gender.

Note how this opening confidently integrates technical detail and even slips in an informal citation on the journey to the thesis. Here, setting acts as a character, moving our story’s protagonist to imagine a woman’s long-ago death, and we also recognize the writer’s seriousness of purpose about her work as she (as a character in the tale) contemplates the woman’s fate from a “small mound of sand and broken rocks in northern Kenya.” Just as she was taken to this important place and moment in her life, we are taken there with her as well through narrative.

Here is another example from an introduction to a student's application to medical school:

When I was little my grandfather gave me piggyback rides, brought me donuts every day when he came home from work, and taught me about nature. A simple farmer who survived World War II and lived most of his life under Russian occupation, he told me why trees grow so high, why I should not pull a cow by its ear, and why I should not chase chickens across the back yard. As fond as I was of him, as I grew and became more educated I also saw how this great man made bad choices about his health. I constantly nagged him about his smoking and poor diet. He loved bacon with eggs and milk straight from the cow. In response to my nagging he would simply say, "Eh, you are so young, what do you know?" One morning after breakfast when I was sixteen, he had a heart attack and died in the kitchen while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

Here we find a writer who simultaneously evokes the memory of his beloved grandfather and also introduces us to his own sensibility. Simple details about his simple upbringing make up a brief but vivid tale with a tragic end, and thus we understand a very personal motivation behind this writer's choice of career.

Other essays open with much briefer and less narrative personal stories, sometimes relying on just one line to set the context, with the writer heading to a purpose statement shortly thereafter. Here are some straightforward but artful beginnings to personal statements from Donald Asher’s book Graduate Admissions Essays:

I attended seventeen different schools before high school.
I spent the morning of my eighteenth birthday in an auditorium with two hundred strangers.
Radio has been my passion for as long as I can remember.

Clearly, the style of an opening that shares a personal story can range from the flashy to the plain—what matters most is that the opening truly is personal.

Compelling Quotations

Like many writers and readers, I’m a sucker for a good meaty quotable quote, which is part of why quotations are used to open each chapter of this handbook. We tape handwritten quotes on our bathroom mirrors, clip them onto the visors in our cars, and paste them into our e-mail signature lines. In a personal essay, not only do quotes set context for the reader, they also allow you to ride on the broad shoulders of another who actually managed to say or write something that was worth quoting. Quotations might be used at the start of the essay, in the closing, or they might appear at a key moment within the body as a way to set context or emphasize a point. In Chapter 5 of this handbook, a quotation is used as an opening to a science-related essay by an applicant for a National Science Foundation Fellowship. In the same chapter, another writer uses a narrative opening in her essay to repeat a favorite quote that her mother used to say: “To find out where you’re going, you need to know where home is.”

Keep in mind that some quotations are highly overused and that quotations can also come off as merely trite and silly, depending on the taste of the reader. Some find Forrest Gump’s “Life is like a box of chocolates” hilarious; others just groan when they hear it. If using a quotation, be sure that you’re not just propping yourself up on it as an apology for a lack of substance to your text. Comment on the quotation’s relevance to your life rather than just let it sit there, and choose the most meaningful quote for the circumstances rather than one that simply tickles your fancy.

The Use of Surprise or Humor

Indeed, the weapon of surprise is a key ingredient in a Monty Python skit about the Spanish Inquisition (no one expects it, just in case you forgot). But in a personal statement humor and surprise can fall flat in the hands of a fumbling writer. Nevertheless, some writers take these calculated risks, and do so with style. Witness this passage from a sample essay in Chapter 4, as a film student explains how he spent his freshman year in a different major:

With a high school education grounded rigorously in math and science, I entered Mythic University on an academic scholarship with Polymer Science and Engineering as my intended major. I like to joke that, after seeing Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate and hearing that terrific line, “plastics,” delivered poolside to a wayward Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), I was inadvertently led into the hands of the great polymer Satan. But, by sophomore year, I quickly escaped the plastic devil’s clasp and found a new home in the film department.

Here, this student uses self-deprecating humor as many do in the personal statement: to explain what might otherwise look like a curiosity in his background. Readers need not question his devotion to film despite his beginning in the sciences—he even blends the two interests together by being influenced into his initial major by a film, aligning himself briefly and humorously with the hapless character of Benjamin Braddock.

Others use humor or surprise less expansively, but again with the purpose of revealing something personal and using intentional self-commentary. In Mark Allen Stewart’s How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement, one writer quips that his high school classmates voted him “Most likely to have a publishable resume,” which shows that this writer can simultaneously poke fun at and uplift himself. In Donald Asher’s Graduate Admissions Essays. Another writer opens her essay unconventionally with a surprising admission—“Skeletons. Like everyone else I have some hanging in my closet”—then later reveals herself as a “survivor of sexual assault.” Here, the writer’s tone is surprisingly frank, which under the circumstances could help her be viewed as mature and courageous, despite the risk she takes.

Part of what unifies these disparate approaches above is that the writers clearly know they are taking a risk with their rhetoric—there’s nothing accidental or highly cutesy about it. All of them reveal a passion for their chosen fields, and the humor and surprise are attention-getting without being too distracting.

Perhaps a good rule of thumb, then, is this: If using humor or surprise, aim it squarely at yourself without making yourself look silly or undermining your character, and dispense with it quickly rather than push it over the top. No matter how well you tell a joke, some readers may not care for it. And remember that not everyone likes, or even "gets," Monty Python.

Topical Context

It’s often said that one of the best ways to prepare for an interview for a national scholarship is to read The New York Times and be ready to discuss current events. If you make it to the interview selection stage, it’s already clear that you have an excellent academic record and look good on paper. What’s unclear is how you will present in person. By showing yourself to be not just committed to your field but also knowledgeable about the world, you paint yourself as a mature thinker, an informed citizen, a responsible student of life.

In a personal statement, writers typically create topical context by narrating a recent event of some consequence, citing a respected source, or simply establishing an arena for discussion. “Martial arts and medicine,” opens one personal essay from Richard Stelzer’s How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School, using an intentional sentence fragment to grab our attention and to crisply define two intertwined themes in the writer’s life. Other essays—the first from the Asher book and the second from the Stelzer book cited above—lend a sense of importance to their subject matter through topical references:

As I write this statement, Governor Mario Cuomo makes preparations to vacate the Executive Mansion in Albany, New York, after New Yorkers rejected his appeal for another term.
As the United States launched yet another small war in a distant corner of the globe, Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen returned to life and captivated a hometown audience in Pekin, Illinois, with the folksy eloquence that made him nationally famous.

As these politically savvy allusions show, writers who use topical references impress upon their readers that they are both informed and concerned. Here, the color of one’s political stripes is irrelevant—what matters is that they are painted clearly. Whether employing a political reference or citing a current event, when you create topical context you represent yourself as a keen observer of the world.

 

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