Friday, August 19, 2011

Advice on surviving the AP Studio Art portfolio

School's back in session, so I have decided to give a little bit of advice on those of you taking "advanced" high school art class!

My senior year of high school I took Advanced Placement Studio Art. Some of you will know what I'm talking about, many art students across the nation challenge themselves to take this taxing year long class. Basically taking the class in school guides you through creating a 3 part portfolio (breadth, concentration and 5 pieces you mail in) for the College Board.

The college board, as much as I can gather, is this shadowy league of "professional art educators" that anonymously (and somewhat harshly) judge your work and decide your fate of passing the class by giving you an AP grade of a 1, 2, 3, 4 or (rarely) 5. The guidelines for their portfolio seems skimpy at best. They never directly tell you what they want to see, besides lengthy lists describing design terms and art principles.

Since I'm a perfectionist, I tried to go "all out" when it came to my portfolio. I wanted the highest score I could get. I also didn't want to fail, since passing the class meant also getting a "credit for college." And I'm all about free college credits.

The problem was, I completely over thought the assignment and stressed myself out to insane means. I feel sorry for my classmates, I was a mess most of the time and always behind on my projects. I didn't know the things that I know now, and I really wish I did. It would've saved me a LOT of frustration, and I may have gotten a better score! For the record, I got a 3 on the 2D Design portfolio, which apparently is "a portfolio of moderate quality" and is at least a passing grade.

Fortunately for you, I can share things I've learned since completing this course and sort through all the "hubbub" surrounding this program. And also, for your viewing pleasure, the following images are sampled from my actual AP portfolio:

If only I had more time..
 Don't kill yourself trying to get "x amount" of pieces done.
This is what I did, so don't make my mistake! I was given the impression that you needed at least 10 or 11 pieces to have a strong concentration. In reality, that's probably the MAX you should be doing. It seems that the "shadowy league of college board judges" are looking for quality not quantity. Instead of rushing through 10 sketchy artworks, take the time and get a strong core of 6 to 8 good pieces. They want to see your concept, not how many artworks you can poop out in a 18 week period.

The college credit you receive isn't as fancy as you think.
 Like with all AP classes, it's true that you'll get a college credit for passing this class. This is useful, don't get me wrong. But it isn't that big of a deal if you end up not getting it. Most of the time, it's an entry level art class credit, and like in my case it didn't even count towards the major I was perusing. So basically it just took away one of my electives which I could've used on a cool and fun class.

Don't confuse what they mean by Breadth.
Here is a quote taken from the AP Studio Art Student Performance Q&A for 2010:
My take on the design issue "emphasis"
"Similar to previous years, some students did not fully engage with a sufficient range of
design issues...often students did not display breadth in design issues. Instead they sometimes showed many different works, or works in a variety of media... a broad range of design issues is one of the main requirements of this section of the portfolio.
 When you're choosing your breadth pieces, keep in mind that they don't care what kind of media you're using. It's not about showing off your variety as an artist by demonstrating your painting skills and your drawing skills. They want to know how much you know about the theory of design. In reality, you could do your breadth in all the same media, as long as the work illustrates a variety of "design issues" (aka emphasis, line, texture, unity, balance, ect.) Luckily, the principles of design never change, so there's a lot of information out there about it. Here's a simple website to get you started on figuring out what principles of design to use. It has pictures!

 Be careful what pieces you send them in the mail.
The portfolio requires you to send them 5 of your best pieces through the mail. But keep in mind these pieces should also be some of your most sturdy works. You don't want  to choose anything fragile because it has a high chance of being damaged during shipment. Also, the college board's policy is to view the works "as is."  For example, I sent in one of my concentration works (pictured left), and to my horror when it was returned to me I discovered that a huge chunk of wood from one of my other canvas had become entangled in the threads of this piece. I'm assuming the college board judged my piece with the horrible wood shard still sloppily hanging embarrassing! Also, remember to mat all the pieces you're sending in. Make them presentable, and this will give you an few extra "brownie points" with the judges.

Most importantly, don't get stressed out.
 If you don't listen to anything else I've said here, at least read this part: You won't be able to produce the amount of quality work you need for this portfolio if you're freaked out and stressed all the time. Take your time with your work and enjoy the process. This doesn't mean procrastinate til the last minute of course, pace yourself with your work and follow deadlines. Don't be intimidated by the requirements, and don't over think things. Art is simple, and if you're loving what you're doing then you're doing it right. Just remember to make work that feels right to you, and the rest will fall into place.
Oh, by the way, if you're interested in learning more about my all fabric concentration click here.
Of course anyone who has an opinion on this matter, by all means give us your two cents! There can never be enough information out there about the sketchy College board AP studio art portfolio. Who else can describe their experience in this program? What scores did you receive?


      crafterella sisters said...

      I like your blog. You have good tips and artwork! Keep it up.

      Anonymous said...

      Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. I was in a panic about how to start my portfolio, and this cleared a LOT of things up. Especially the Breadth. My thinking pattern was heading right for the mistake of multiple media type of art. And the link really helped too. The official art course description was really wordy and unclear.

      trina lyn said...

      I'm glad that this post was helpful to you! Good luck to you in your AP journey, I'm sure you will do sublimely :)

      Kathryn Wise said...

      Very helpful! What do you do with your students after you send in the portfolio? I have about 6 weeks after they send it in and I have no clue of what kind of projects they should work on after completing such a big body of work.


      Nick Oates said...

      Art is very difficult thing to evaluate due to the fact that all the people have very different tastes

      trina lyn said...

      I agree, Nick. I guess that's why this portfolio steers towards theory of design rather than technical ability. Not to say technical ability and execution isn't hugely important either!