Ask the Art Prof: What Kind of Art do I Need to Win an Art Scholarship?

Final Crit

“I’m applying for an art scholarship, it involves submitting 10 artworks. How should I vary my artwork to show my abilities? If you were in charge of deciding who got the scholarship what would you be looking for?”

Above all else, I would be looking for originality. Everywhere I go, I see work that is a blatant rip off of some other artist.  I would want to see work that truly is able to stand on it’s own and doesn’t read as derivative of something that I’ve seen before.  I wish there was a way to accurately, verbally describe what makes an image original.  The best attempt I can make is to say that an original work doesn’t have you thinking about the works of others, rather you find yourself completely immersed in the piece itself.

I was once on a jury for an artist grant a few years ago.  Between the three judges, we had to choose one winner and one runner up from about 50 entries. This was my first time sitting on a jury, and I was astounded by how easy it was to eliminate applications.  So many portfolios were the same boring pieces that I felt I had seen a thousand times over.

I saw the same classic problems over and over again in many of the works:  bad drawings that were copied from photographs, boring/poor composition, typical uses of a media, and cliche subject matter. Even worse, many people didn’t even bother to shoot high quality photographs of their work.  The images themselves were flawed to begin with and made it hard to see the artwork clearly. The best works stood out because of their unique approach, energy, and enthusiasm. The winners demonstrated a sensitivity to their subject matter as well as a distinctive application of their materials.

In terms of varying your work to show your abilities, you want enough variety to keep things interesting so that the works don’t feel too repetitive and similar. However, be wary of having too much variation, if the works in your portfolio feel too disparate it can come across as unfocused and scattered. It’s a very delicate balance that you have to walk in terms of staying focused but varied simultaneously. Spread out all ten pieces on the floor and see how they look together. Do they look good as a group?  If the pieces look like they were drawn by ten different people, then work to find a way to achieve better cohesion.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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One thought on “Ask the Art Prof: What Kind of Art do I Need to Win an Art Scholarship?

  1. Very interesting to hear about art scholarships from the judge side. I wonder if the contrast between a “winning” portfolio vs the “dime a dozen” and weak portfolio would be something a layperson could see the difference. Do you have any images of student work you can share that would illustrate that difference?

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