Introduction to Art Schools: What Is a Portfolio?

by Frederick H. Carlson
What Is a Portfolio?

Simply put, the portfolio is your artistic presentation. In many cases, it speaks for you when you are not present to speak for yourself.

For the student, the portfolio should show what you could become: a demonstration of your raw ability and range of experiences. This is beneficial tool for the educators and screeners reviewing your potential success within their varied art programs.

The student portfolio should be arranged to show finished pieces as well as sketches, studies and preliminary ideas, including a fair number of works (25 maximum) without creating a huge unwieldy mess. Be aware that in many cases, portfolio content may be specified by the particular institution you are applying to so pay attention to those demands. Portfolios are certainly measured against many other applicants and in conjunction with overall previous academic performance requirements. Depending on the specificity of the program you are applying for, the portfolio will play all (in highly specific programs) or only a little weight (in general programs) regarding your acceptance.

For the professional artist, the portfolio shows one's best work in a specifically tailored way for the client's or employer's benefit. A strong portfolio convinces and persuades in the same way a single piece of art entices a viewer.

A professional portfolio is highly edited, showing only the artist's best work: the work that he or she wants to produce and wants to excel in the task of cresating. Free-lancers and creative business owners alike sell themselves almost exclusively through the use of the portfolio, which now can be placed on and viewed on the web, on a CD, in a traditional print folio, or on a video tape. A portfolio can be the single most influential consideration an employer takes into account when filling a job opening, but don't discount people skills, an efficient communicative personality, and eye for detail to succeed in the multi-tasking typical in creative environments.

As career paths move up and job and market situations change, all portfolios are re-edited and updated, they are never static. Depending on the needs of any one literal-minded client, totally different subjects can be featured in different pitches to customers, even though the skill and artistic expression are the same artist's basic presentation.

  1. What Is Art?
  2. Professional Overview in the Arts
  3. Working as an Artist  
  4. The Challenges for the Artist
  5. What is a Portfolio?
  6. The Long View is Necessary
  7. Art Education
  8. Directions and Choices
  9. What Type of Art School Do You Want to Attend?
  10. When is the Art Major Important?
  11. Costs and Financial Aid >>
  12. Choosing an Art School
  13. Conclusion

About the Author

Frederick H. Carlson is one of the most well-known artist/illustrators in the mid-Atlantic region. No venue is too large or too small for his incisively drawn and lucidly painted pieces. He has executed everything from room-sized murals to LP covers. He drew over 150 portraits for National Review between 1990-1999.

Carlson is a 1977 Carnegie-Mellon University alumnus, and has been a freelancer for over 30 years. He has exhibited his art at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, the New York Society of Illustrators Cegep-St. Foy (Quebec), Dubendorf (Switzerland), the Manchester Craftsmens Guild, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and at Daystar/One World Gallery.

Fred was the National President of the Graphic Artists Guild from 1991-1993, the first non-NYC based artist to be so elected. He served on the Guild's Executive Committee for 8 years. He has written extensively and has been published in national publications such as The Artist's Magazine, Communication Arts, GAG News, Artists Market, and his work was featured in ART DIRECTION. He was one of the speakers addressing the Illustration Conference (ICON3) in Philadelphia in June 2003, and he served as a juror the same month at the 44th annual Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, PA.

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