Artists experience atypical application process

Maya Wilson and Ava Ahmann

Senior Simon Rosenthal grew up drawing with his aunt, a graphic designer. His grandpa taught him about facial proportions. In eighth grade, he transitioned from sketching to painting canvases. This year, Rosenthal joined the cohort of Wilson students who apply to art school, and he was not disappointed. Next year, he’ll be studying art at New York University. For students like Rosenthal, the process of applying to college is far from traditional.

The main component of an art school application is a portfolio. Some schools specify different types of pieces to include; one common request is observational pieces, which are traditional still lifes. These portfolios include high quality photos of the students’ work, and are often accompanied by artist statements and supplemental essays that ask about influence and motivation.

Throughout their application process, students’ energy is largely focused towards curating their portfolio. “I’m just going to show them my art, and hopefully they think it’s amazing,” said senior Zach Tafur, who applied to Savannah College of Art and Design and the Pratt Institute, among others.

Naturally, the process of creating a piece varies from person to person, but Rosenthal and Tafur both said they don’t usually begin their work with a specific purpose in mind. “I don’t want anyone to see anything in particular, I just draw and I see where it takes me. But once I start getting into it, I’m like this is what I want to go for,” explained Tafur. “I really like people interpreting it their own way.”

“I don’t have a purpose, but people still try to analyze it and it’s kind of funny,” echoed Rosenthal. “Sometimes I do try to incorporate social justice into my pieces.”

Wilson’s art teachers have proven instrumental in guiding their students through their applications. “All my art teachers since freshman year have definitely encouraged me to go to art school,” said Tafur. “Ms. Barnes really knew what she was talking about. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her.”

Art teacher Mary Barnes serves as the key advisor during this process. Barnes begins developing the foundation necessary to succeed in art school early on, and talks frequently to her students about different career paths, ranging from architect to curator to engineer—Tafur’s dream job would be designing cartoon shows. Barnes also arranges college visits independent from those coordinated by the College and Career Center. This year, Barnes says she wrote between 15 and 20 letters of recommendation for students applying to art school.

For some students, such as senior Virginia Mogzech, applying to art school, and the schools themselves carry some drawbacks. Since most art schools are private institutions, the cost of attendance can be hefty, and scholarship offerings are difficult to obtain due to the lack of emphasis on grades and essay. Your portfolio becomes the one dimension you are able to display to the admissions counselors, Mogzech explained. “You send in a portfolio of work, which makes it easier than getting in with grades, but harder to get good scholarships,” she said.

By the end of the process, students develop strong connections to the pieces that constitute their portfolio. Tafur’s favorite piece in his is also one of his more recent. Inspired by Picasso, it depicts two deformed figures in colored pencil. “I use a lot of prismacolors. They’re the best colored pencils ever,” Tafur explained with growing excitement. “They’re designed to blend into each other, so it’s like paint, but its pencil so its so much easier to deal with and it’s just way better.”