Art and film schools now place emphasis on creativity, innovation

November 26, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov and Oliver Ye

Art and film students prepare portfolios to showcase their creativity as opposed to technical skill — a change from a decade earlier.

While most seniors are frantically writing essays, obtaining transcripts and requesting recommendation letters to submit with their college applications, students applying to art and film schools are doing the same, while also creating extensive portfolios of their best work.

“You have to do twice the work in the same amount of time,” said senior Isabella Taylor, who is applying to art schools such as the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and the Pratt Institute as an architect major.

Taylor recommends that students start creating a portfolio as early as possible, since each art piece can take several hours.

Private art teacher Lee Akamichi, who teaches at an art studio, Akamichi Studio Prep, said that in the past decade, many art programs have shifted from searching for a portfolio that merely showcases skills to one that represents each applicant’s creativity.  

While schools still want to see real art and an understanding of drawing foundations such as perspective and shading, more and more colleges are placing emphasis on the underlying messages of students’ work.

“Fifteen years ago, it was all about skill — can you copy life exactly like it exists?” Akamichi said. “But now, that is becoming less and less important.”

According to Akamichi, while artistic skill is still important, it has merely become only one of many aspects colleges want to see in their applicants.

Many schools today are looking for students with creative preparation and artistic risk-taking. In today’s idea-driven world, industries, banks, investment houses, hospitals and scientific research organizations have begun to realize that people with artistic training and creative experience are potentially better assets than those simply with a fundamental skill set.

For instance, Akamichi said that film schools want to see how their students can present visual movement without using words: “show vs tell.” They want their students to prove their aptness at being master storytellers.

Creating a portfolio, whether for art or film schools, requires a lot of time and thought. Since different schools have different requirements, students have to modify their portfolios to fit each application.

The school’s art teacher Diana Vanry said that while an application usually includes basic information like transcripts, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and a digital portfolio, the standards by which admissions officers evaluate a student’s work vary greatly.

While some art schools want a more traditional portfolio with observational drawings from life, others want more conceptual art, where the idea and meaning is more important than skill level.

“More and more schools are looking at the student’s vision and the student’s voice that becomes apparent in his or her portfolio,” Vanry said.

Furthermore, Vanry said that art schools are tightly linked to professionals in the art industry, and it is easy to make connections. Schools hope to admit students that will be able to attain successful careers working as freelance artists and in the commercial world.

Senior Hannah Chang is applying to art schools such as RISD, Pratt and the California Institute of the Arts and plans to showcase a variety of her skills, ranging from graphics to realistic drawings.

“You never know what colleges really want to see in your portfolio, so you don't know what to work with,” Chang said.

Chang hopes that an art school will build her foundation and push her outside of her limits. With her degree, she wants to work at an animation studio, such as Disney or Pixar.

“Art schools can really help you see something different in your artwork and try different styles,” Chang said.

Taylor said that admission officers often look for unique creative pieces, evidence of hard work and artwork that shows a variety of skill sets.

“I’m trying to show a lot of different mediums so that it shows that I can do a lot of different things and that I've experimented with a lot of different things,” Taylor said. “It’s fun for me also to discover my style while I’m creating a portfolio.”

Her portfolio includes pieces from a Cal Poly summer architecture camp, such as a miniature house made out of bristol board, basswood sticks and lightbox (a cardboard box with cutouts where light can enter in different ways), as well as a drawing of a street corner done in pen and copic marker and a colored pencil self portrait.

Taylor said that she hopes an art school will help her learn more about design styles and improve her drawing techniques. She believes that art school will be very “open-minded” and that being surrounded by people with similar interests will inspire her and let her learn by example.

“Art schools want to be known for people who are not only good at design and art, but also for people who are creative enough to work side by side with others and people in the various fields,” Akamichi said. “Now the major themes are: Do you have a voice, can you think for yourself and how much creativity do you have?

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