Rob Pepper, artist and principal at Art Academy London, provides some handy hints for wowing the art school of your dreams and discusses why it’s important to encourage creativity in young people
At Art Academy London, every year we see how nerve-wracking prospective students find the application process: it can feel like they are being asked to lay their soul bare to a group of judgmental strangers. While we always try to be supportive, it’s true that art students have to reveal and explain themselves and their work in a much more personal manner than those applying to study science or maths. However, as with any educational path, the way to take the pressure and emotion out of the application process is the same: preparation, preparation, preparation!
Let’s start with the basic principles of preparing for your interview: presenting your work. Think of your portfolio as a snapshot of your potential as an artist – a way of showing the art school of your dreams your style, skills and thinking, and how you can develop these while studying with them.
Your portfolio should comprise around 20 pieces of work, featuring a range of research, ideas development, experimentation with different materials, techniques and media, and some finished pieces. Whether you choose to include self-initiated work or projects from school, it’s good to show images in sketchbooks or notebooks, working drawings, life drawing, photography and media manipulation, and 2D or 3D work.
It’s also useful to organise your portfolio into categories to make it easier to view and present. Avoid repetition and try to demonstrate a range of your skills – and not just technical skills, but also your ability to find inventive and creative solutions to visual problems. You can include brief explanations, but avoid falling into the A-Level trap of writing a detailed analysis of your work: one or two sentences is enough.
At interview, it’s essential that you can talk confidently about your work – not only to show passion and determination, but also to justify your decisions. Each piece in your portfolio should have a thought process behind it, and it can’t just be “I made that piece because my art teacher told me to!”
To stand out from the crowd, think about ways of developing creativity and thinking differently (but don’t confuse this with trying to shock an art tutor, as they’ve seen most things already). It’s about being authentic to your own creativity and pushing the boundaries of that.
It’s essential that you show an interest in art, culture and society and can talk about how this informs your own work. This type of contextual knowledge will really strengthen your portfolio and show your commitment when interviewing for an art school. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of visiting galleries, and learning to look at and record the work of others – this not only helps to inform your practice but will prepare you for studying art at higher education.
However, you don’t need to limit your interests to creative fields: politics, the environment, media, history, religion, philosophy, music, theatre, cinema, literature, film or new technologies can all inspire your art. Building your knowledge on a subject that interests you and incorporating that into your practice adds a new layer of meaning to your work. And if you’re passionate and interested about it, you’ll find it easier to speak engagingly at an interview.
A-Level students will typically start with a foundation course before studying an undergraduate degree such as a BA. At Art Academy London, our one-year Fine Art Foundation focuses on giving students the tools to go on and study art, including building a portfolio, providing one-to-one guidance, visiting top museums and galleries, and conducting mock interviews – all of which will help prepare students both for applying to, and then studying at, art school.
There has never been a more important time to develop our young people to be creative and art schools play an integral part of this: we teach people to think creatively, challenge them to realise their potential, and help them find good jobs. Focusing on creativity and the arts has never been more relevant in a world that continues to define its culture by the human ingenuity, resilience and adaptability that comes from studying art.