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Portfolio Thoughts

In the visual arts, we are faced with two fundamental opposite views as to what to put into the portfolio: Depth vs Breadth. This is almost always the case in all portfolios. Each artist will normally have several strengths that by their own drive and focus are bound to get stronger and stronger. Part of the challenge in education is of course to get them to try different things. But, in order to see that they would benefit from the program, there has to be a match between what they do and what the school offers.

Driving Forces: Student, School, Faculty

Into the fray...

In the case where the student has mastered many arts, it will most likely be to their benefit to go to one of the art schools rather than a general university. Rare though these kinds of students are, even they usually have a passion for one kind of work. But, even in this case their broad mastery helps to "seal the deal" - and mainly that means getting scholarship or work/study money. At this point, the "plight" of all students resembles each other: To put the best foot forward in terms of their work. Ideally, their portfolio should reflect that area of art that is their driving passion. Later in the process, as they may have been not picked up by their first choices, they have to re-arrange their portfolio to more and more match what a given school and particularly the faculty there is "looking for". Finally, the "match" between student and a particular faculty member (or members in the case of less diverse interests) goes toward much of the "acceptability" of the student and their work. And of course, there must be a compatibility between the student and the faculty.

What the student has to say

Since i am primarily a 2d artist, i will only address those aspects of an art portfolio that would apply to a student's work in the realm of 2d work. Also, since i deal almost entirely in abstract, surreal, and textual areas - these too are what i will speak of. But, in general if something it supposed to BE realistic, then it should LOOK realistic; and etc, with photographic, hyper-realistic, etc. That a student will have a large number of items to choose from is a given. But, as the last year or semester of study, they need to be reminded to begin thinking of specific projects that will highlight their work. Traditionally, the portfolio review has been submitting 20 slides (as in "Slide Projector") and the faculty at the school spending 5 minutes looking at each slide individually thru the slide, usually without even loading them into a slide cassette. Recently, some schools have started to accept a CD-ROM. But, of course what one needs to look at is the work and how it holds together. In many cases, non-representational work is submitted and the strength of lines, the use of the space itself and the choices made in "solving" the problems of the work are the criteria by which it is judged. Of course, each of these things is highly subjective. Note that in the case of graphic work, the work itself usually stands at the other end of the spectrum: While expressive work is often intense and emotional, graphic work often is almost minimalist and sardonic - even humourous. This is not to say of course, that graphic works can not have a strength to them - words often convey the stronger elements in such cases; as well as colour, font, and size choices of the text(s).

Two Dimensional Work

There are primarily now, four areas of 2d work that we should address: 1) Drawings 2) Print Work 3) Paitingings 4) Digital Work We note immediately that the tradtional forms have a sufficent tradtion of centuries (if not indeed, millenia) and as such (like "sculpture" and "pottery") go by simple names "drawings" and "paintings" which encompass an extremely broad and variety of techniques, treatments, and subject matter. While the "late comers" print and digital work are of a "also ran" way of seeing. In drawing, the scale and use of the paper are fore-most in the craft. The rule is: If the paper is supposed to be folded, scored, or dented then it should clearly be so - and thus, in the manner of a sculpture and/or dada. The care with which the artist has approaced this the most universal of the "picture plane" should be clear. Next (as with all work) the intent of the artist may or may not be clear (which of course leads us to our old friend the "intentionalist falacy" all that that "mistake" entails). But, the use of materials should show a mastery of them and their presentation. Line quality, value, and the classical "design" elements should be clear in each and every work. We only see "fragmentary" works in things that are specifically left unifinished; eg, Gorky's "Portrait of the Artist and his Mother", Sonenfelder's Mother's "Laundry list", etc. Again, the work is torn between two extremes: To show "consistency, coherence, and continuity" vs. To show variety and creative leaps. This is almost always tied to the art teacher reviewing the work and how they themself see the world through their work. This is important to note: If the student is wanting to learn from the style and ideas of a particular teacher, then they are best to submit things of a similar nature and working method. In Painting, we are immediately addressed by the choice of material: Oil, Acrylic, WaterColour, or Utility paints. In general, these media should not be mixed unless the student's work tends to be MAINLY mixed-media. In this case, the work is more interpreted in a sculptural light even if the expression is primarily 2d. Of oil painting, i can only say that the work should show a clear feeling for the way that it moves and how it can be layered to efface various tonalities showing through. In terms of acrylic work, strong grahic lines should be clear and strong and any bleeding about them should force itself upon us as clearly intentional. Underpainting and background figures should help to support the foreground work. In the case of minimalist works, the style should jump out at us from and two or three of the student's work -- this should be (in my oppinion) a forcing issue in the selction of works to submit: Minimalism that does not attack us in some way with its defiance, lacks some element that needs re-work. Passing now to water colours and washes -- i also include ink (black and white) in this as well -- we may say that mastery of the technique is everything. Unlike other areas, this is probably the most delicately intimate of painting works; probably only matched in pottery work with the delicacy of glazes, and fine details. This may sound a bit strange coming from such a ink-and-pen minimalist such as myself, but when i am in-falling into a wetted piece of paper (or even dry use) and mixing my shades and bringing them in and out: Then i think to myself that "This is what oil painting must be for those who seem to converse so easily in that medium." For me oil painting is something to be fought, conquered and that the canvas is to be subjugated to expressions of all my fears, hopes, and angst that not even sculpture can say to me. And for me: Watercolour is exactly the opposite. Again, this goes back to the student submitting their work to an artist that more-or-less "thinks" as they do. Some reviewers will be arrogant to make judgements in areas that they know nothing of. I can only hope that i don't do that. In terms of print work: If the student's work shows that they know which side of a paper is up, that they can tear paper down, and they know how to roll up ink. Then "all" that remains to express themself in print. Only pencil or pen and ink comes closest to the ideal of seeing the image in our minds and then making it exist outside of ourselves. In general, printwork will reflect a "painterly style" except that it is expressed in a different medium. And i would say that "composition" takes a larger role in this medium as well - which is of course a completely absurd and ridiculous statement. In terms of digital work (of which i am not really qualified to speak of except in dadaist ways), there are two "schools of thought", 1. It doesn't look digital and appears to be done using only tradtional techniques. The exception of course, being photographic techniques which in this school should at least look like they might have been done on a printing press. 2. It's clearly digital, and damn well proud of it! This is of course, the modern and the graphic -- where this will all go, i for one don't know; but can't wait to find out.

Video Work

Finally, i should say a few things about video work in the portfolio since i have some experience in this. 1. Videos should not have loose ends. That is, if they are produced in a "tight style" (eg, tradtional film work like "North by NorthWest", "2001", "Girl Number Six", "Little Miss Sunshine", "Enlightenment", etc.) then they shouldn't have floating frames, bad cuts, etc. 2. Alternatively, if they are in the ragged, edgy style (as purported but never used in Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending" - we never see THE film itself), or in "Memento", "Pi", "Nemesis Game", "American Splendor", etc. Then the rules are simple: The camera angle should be dead on. If it's not dead on, make it CLEARLY not dead on. The camera should not shake etc unless it's supposed to. Wind makes a camera shake, but if we don't hear the wind: Then it's just irritating. Sound should be clear and mixed as carefully as possible. Again, like the shaking camera, the sound shouldn't be "out of character" with the scene that it is supporting. This is not to say that sound (which is often used to bridge two (or more) scenes) can't go from fine, HQ to "over-volumed" to flattened, tinny, etc to convey a transition of emotions. I'm thinking of something like John Coltrane's "Spiritual" which could start very nicely in a sleepy, smokey pub and then slowly become more ragged and over-volumed to show (perhaps) the effects of drugs on him. This idea is of course goes back to Jimmy Hendrix and his rendering of the American Anthem. Again: If there is something (even if it's normal) in the vid or aud tracks - then it should be there because it works, and simply that the student couldn't think of any other thing to do. Final advice: Almost never submit things that are last-minute. Of course even that advice fails - as every performer knows; At the last minute all of the sets had to be moved and some of the staging re-done in the opening night of the Kurt Weil/Bertolt Brecht production of "The Three Penny Opera". Herbert Hoover stumbles on his speech and calls for a return to "normalcy". It works. Guernica is NOT a display of the history of Spanish art as intended for the exhibition in 1938. Well, you know: Ladies, Gentlemen, and Nethers - we have no need of a ghost come from the grave to tell us things are screwed up. Let's go to work. That. That's what the portfolio should show: work. This concludes my presentation at this time. We appologise for the inconvenience. Please pay as you exit. --42-- In this section: {Intro} {} {} {}