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Art School Personal Essay Graphic Organizer

How to Write a Successful Personal Statement for Art School

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If an art school offers the option of submitting a personal statement, it may be tempting for forgo the opportunity. However, it could actually work to your advantage! In addition to showcasing your personality and thought process, submitting an application essay allows the admissions team to see that you are so much more than just your transcripts. Whether you were a top student or perhaps received lower than average test scores, an art school application essay allows you to showcase your direction as an artist, as well as highlight any additional accomplishments, making you further stand out as an applicant.

When it comes to an art college essay, you may be asked about your art philosophy, your artistic influences, maybe even how you have evolved as an artist. Although the content of the essay itself is subjective, it is a potentially powerful piece that may make the difference between admission and rejection. Needless to say, you need to showcase the very best of you, especially if it may not have come out in the other parts of the application package.

What Should Be in My Personal Essay for Art School?

Some applications may require a lengthier autobiographical essay while others, such as Hussian College, simply request a succinct couple of paragraphs. Either way, there are a few crucial elements to consider to help your artist statement stand out for the right reason.

Although there are no “rules” (unless they are outlined in the requirements), you should remember that it is an essay to be written with care. Ideas should flow together in a way that makes sense and attention should be paid to grammar and verbiage. By showing that you are able to craft a professional piece of content that is mindful of proper grammar and verbiage while speaking to who you are as an individual, your personal statement will truly stand out.

Structuring Your Art School Application Essay

Just like the essays you were taught to write in school, your personal statement should have a discernible introduction, body, and conclusion.

  • The Introduction: Ideally, your introduction should frame the question being asked of you in the context of how you envision yourself as an artist. It is a good place to set out the parameters of your essay so the reader knows what is to come. You could also use the introduction to provide the reader a basic roadmap so that they can understand how your statement is intended to flow.
  • The Body: The body will contain your arguments and explanations. Where applicable, make sure you provide concrete examples that can paint a vivid picture for the reader. For example, if you say that abstract modern art has influenced your aesthetic style, you may identify a particular painting, artist, or group of works, that embody what you love. If you pick something like Picasso’s Guernica, speak to the individual visual elements that make the work stand out to you. Is it the use of color? The way the artist has interpreted the historical bombing? What is it that you see in this work or art that may not have been evident to others?
  • The Conclusion: Though you may be relieved to finally be writing the conclusion, don’t let your personal statement end abruptly! The conclusion, after all, is your last chance to leave a final great first impression. It should reiterate the theme of your statement without introducing any new ideas. Essentially, the reader should be left feeling as though they have a better understanding of who you are as an artist. Think of it this way: if the rest of the essay was the journey, the conclusion is the destination.

Some institutions, like Hussian College, ask for a short statement of 200-500 words. Despite its short length, you should still approach it in a methodical way, with an engaging introduction, clear conclusion, and body that supports the conclusion. Treat it no differently than you would a lengthier essay!

Personal Statement Essay Do’s and Don’ts

While many schools encourage creativity when it comes to crafting your personal statement, it is important to incorporate best writing practices to ensure a piece that is easy to read, thorough, and engaging. Here are a few art school essay writing tips you may wish to adopt to ensure that you put your best foot forward.

Personal Essay Do’s

  • Answer all the parts of the question. A common mistake that students make when writing a personal statement is to simply list all the positive things about themselves. Make sure that you understand what the question is asking. Sometimes the college wants to see your creativity; other times, they are looking for more fact-based responses. It can be helpful to make an outline or map out the question on a sheet of paper prior to actually writing. This helps to ensure you are touching upon every part of the question(s).
  • Focus on your strengths. You are, after all, trying to persuade the reader that you are the candidate they want to admit. You want them to understand that you have much to offer their program. Unless you are being specifically asked about a weakness, concentrate your writing on your best facets.
  • Use specific, personal examples. Not only do these allow the reader to really get to know you, but it will give you a bit more credibility. Instead of vague claims, you will be better able to explain why you think you deserve to be part of their program. You can demonstrate the impact something has had on you, and how you were shaped by it. You may even be showing some out-of-the-box, innovative thinking, which is usually a sought-after trait in an artist.
  • Make your essay easy to read and follow. Use line breaks to break up paragraphs. Where appropriate, use headings and subheadings. Members of an art school admissions staff often have to read dozens, even hundreds, of personal statements and art essays. Ideally, you want reading your essay to be a pleasant experience, one that is easy to follow and to the point.

Personal Essay Don’ts

  • Don’t recycle personal statements. If you are applying to multiple art schools, it may be tempting to use the same application or personal essay. However, it’s a good idea to refrain from doing this. What you think of for your graphic design personal statement ideas could be quite different from what you would include in a fine art essay sample, for example. It’s best to treat each personal statement as a separate essay with different focuses.
  • Don’t lie or embellish. Personal statements are just that… personal! Embellishments or lies can often be sensed by the reader, especially if you are not entirely familiar with a particular topic. Keeping your writing personal and true only adds to the passion, something that admissions teams often look for in an art student. In addition, some colleges conduct interviews. They are free to ask you about the statements you have made in your essay, and if it is full of embellishments, you may find yourself stuck when responding.
  • Don’t speak in generalities. Very general phrases about what you like or dislike do nothing to actually convey what inspires or influences you. Instead, explain the why. Rather than simply state, “I like bold colors,” you might say: “I prefer the attention that is drawn to bold and saturated colors, often utilized to emphasize a contrast between objects and subject matter.” Ideally, a personal statement is your opportunity to really differentiate yourself as an applicant, not blend into a sea of overly general, unengaging essays.
  • Don’t get too “avant-garde”, political, or humorous. Even though the essay is an excellent opportunity to give the admissions team a glimpse of your personality, do it strategically. Overdoing the bubbliness may make you appear to not be taking the statement seriously while going overboard with political themes may come off as uninviting to opposing viewpoints. Incorporate your personality, but do so mindfully.
  • Don’t rely on lists. Unless you are specifically asked to list technical qualifications, lists can be awkward within an application essay and don’t really add to the narrative of your personal statement. As important as the content is, the admissions team is trying to get a sense of how you communicate and what your thought process is. A bullet-style list of art class experience or your favorite artists doesn’t necessarily give them any such insight.
  • Don’t make excuses. Just as you should be focusing on your strengths, try not to bring up the negative. Why your grade in a certain class was low, for example, may not have been a question in the mind of the reader. If anything, this will only draw attention to this anomaly. The admissions team are only interested in your life events to the extent that they are relevant to what they have asked you to write.

Personal Statement Prompts

Often, a school will provide very broad guidelines for their requested personal statement or application essay. If your forte isn’t writing, very general requirements may be challenging to handle. Where do you start? In these instances, it may be helpful to practice with personal statement writing prompts, which can offer some guidance. There are a few directions that writing prompts may put you in…

Information About Yourself as a Person and Artist

If you’d like to focus on highlighting who you are as a person and as an artist, consider the following writing prompts. Not only do they provide a way to prepare for writing your personal statement, but they allow you to include all the important information about yourself in one place, which could make plotting out your essay much smoother.

  • Why is this school or program right for you and what you hope to gain from it?
  • Why are you right for this school or program and what will you offer?
  • How have you pursued your artistic interest outside of school – hobbies, extra-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.?
  • How are your personal and life experiences relevant to this program and to your desired career?
  • What transferable skills do you have?
  • What leadership opportunities have you had – leading a project, for example – and what lessons were learned from these experiences?
  • What are your short, medium, and long-term goals?
  • Which artists have influenced your work – for better or for worse?
  • How would you describe your artistic style?
  • What sorts of media do you use and why – or what your favorite medium is and why?
  • What motivates or inspires you to create art? What are you trying to achieve through art?
  • What makes you and/or your art unique?

Rhetorical, Creative Thinking Type Questions

Some may prefer to take a more philosophical approach to their art college essay. These types of essays may be quirky or humorous, but don’t be fooled – they are sometimes harder to answer than the more personal, factual questions! Here are some prompts for those who may be looking to get creative:

  • Can art be simultaneously appealing AND morally corrupt?
  • Does the amount of freedom in society have an effect on the artwork produced in that society? Explain.
  • Does art play a greater role in influencing a society or reflecting a society?
  • Describe the importance of painting in a world with digital photography.
  • Which is more important in a work of art: technical quality or emotion? Why?
  • Define “art” based on your personal experience.
  • How is the creative process in art similar to or different from the creative process in science?
  • Do artists have an obligation to tell the “truth”? Why or why not?

Making a Great First Impression with Your Personal Artist Statement

Your artist statement really is your chance to make a great first impression, especially if your high school transcripts or standardized test scores are less than impressive. Let the readers—the admissions team—know that you truly do want to attend their school by ensuring a high-quality essay that speaks to who you are as an artist.

With that said, after drafting your personal statement, you may be inclined to submit it right away, especially if you are working on multiple applications at the same time. Given its importance and its function in the application package though, go the extra mile by:

  • Spell checking your statement. Twice.
  • Reviewing your grammar and making sure your verb tenses match and your sentences are structured cleanly.
  • Tinkering with wording to improve the flow. Read your draft out loud to yourself – you’d be surprised how many little errors you can catch when actually hearing the words.
  • Alternatively, have a friend, family member, or even a previous teacher or art instructor proofread your essay and provide feedback. Let them know if there’s something in particular you’re concerned about, such as the flow of the ideas, or whether your explanations are compelling.

Most Importantly, Don’t Sweat It

It’s easy for students to become overwhelmed at the thought of writing a personal statement for their art school application, especially if they are applying to multiple schools. Don’t stress yourself out! If you’re in a bind, free write on a sheet of paper and get the ideas flowing. Remember to stay true to who you are—that’s what the admissions teams are looking for, after all!

Put these tips to the test when crafting a personal artist statement for your application to Hussian College! We can’t wait to see all that you have to offer as a student. You may also review our course curriculum to find just the right program for you.

Classroom Activities & Lesson Plans

Developed for Middle School Curriculum, but most activities are scalable for multiple grade levels.

Create Your Own Lesson Plan: Template Use this template (or your own) to create and share your own lesson plans, museum strategies, artmaking activities, and ideas for teaching about arts and culture. We’ll share them on this website, on our tours, and at upcoming educator events. Download

Narrative Writing Lesson Plan (by Alder Creek Middle School Teacher, Matt Chalmers) Includes graphic organizer for storyboarding, and prompts for developing student writing by connecting to meanings in students own, personal objects. Download

Object-Oriented Storytelling Classroom activities and Brainstorming Web graphic organizer, to encourage students in developing stories about their own objects with description and personal meaning. Uses “This is not a roll of tape” and “Crossing the line” formats. Download

Object Stories: Graphic Organizer(by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Brainstorming worksheet for developing stories from objects that students love. Download

Object Stories: Memories Worksheet(by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Graphic organizer for developing stories from the memories that objects carry. Download

Object Stories: Narrative Writing Activity In this activity, students explore the meaning and significance of their own, personal objects via written narrative; for Common Core Standard 6.W.3 Includes graphic organizer “Storytelling with Objects” for brainstorming.  Download

Object Stories: Brainstorming in the Classroom (by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Prompts students to think about significance and the memories and meanings that objects contain (people, place, time, descriptive language). Works well with “Word-Quilt Artmaking Activity.” Download

Oral Storytelling Lesson Plan (by teaching artist Adele White) Theater-based storytelling activities for developing oral presentations and narratives from objects of personal value and significance. Common Core Standard 6.W.3, works well with Oral Storytelling Prep activities.Download

Oral Storytelling PrepTheater-based storytelling activities for developing oral presentations and narratives from objects of personal value and significance. Common Core Standard 6.W.3, works well with Oral Storytelling Lesson Plan. Download

Photographic Storytelling Lesson Plan(by teaching artist Julie Keefe) Using a series of prompts relating to perspectives, students craft a six-word story and create photographs that tell the story of their object. Works well with “Photographic Scavenger Hunt Activity” as a tie-in. Download

Photographic Scavenger Hunt Activity(by teaching artist Julie Keefe) An excellent tie-in to the “Photographic Storytelling Lesson Plan.” Download

Poetic Storytelling Lesson Plan (by teaching artist Cindy Williams Gutiérrez) Students create and tell stories about their own objects with description and personal meaning; students recognize that all objects have multiple stories and begin to find personal meaning in museum objects. Includes poems by Pablo Neruda. Download

Preparing for a Museum Visit: Classroom Lesson Plan Demonstrates how the ordinary objects of today receive and accrue meaning, providing a corollary to the same processes that take place in the objects of the Museum. Includes stories from the Object Stories online archive and links to using Online Collections. Download

Quiltmaking Classroom Activity: Storytelling by Word-quilt(by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Students tell stories about their own objects with description and personal meaning; bridging students’ visual quilt squares to a verbal story about their object. Includes Object Stories Brainstorming Worksheets. Download

Senses, Simile & Metaphor Lesson Plan (by teaching artist Cindy Williams Gutiérrez) Writers and storytellers see more than the object as it is; students use their imaginations to bring them alive by comparing them to other things through simile and metaphor. Works well with “Poetic Storytelling Lesson Plan.”  Download

Storytelling with Objects A simple graphic organizer for brainstorming object-driven narrative. Works well with “Storytelling with Memories” worksheet. Download

Storytelling with Memories A simple graphic organizer for brainstorming from personal significance inside objects that contain strong memories. Works well with “Storytelling with Objects” graphic organizer. Download

Theater Storytelling  (by teaching artist Lindsay Genshaft) Includes Object Stories Story Map Worksheet, works well with Tableau Museum Activity (see “Museum Activities Tool Kit”). Download

“This is not a roll of tape” Warmup Exercise Can be used in the classroom and the Museum. Download

Turning Written Stories into Oral Stories & Presentations Includes story map worksheet; supports Common Core Standard 6.W.3by looking for Time, Place & People, description, and significance. Download


Museum Activities

Create Your Own Museum Activity: Template Use this template (or your own) to create and share your own lesson plans, museum strategies, artmaking activities, and ideas for teaching about arts and culture. We’ll share them on this website, on our tours, and at upcoming educator events. Download

“Getting to know you” Worksheet A very useful, simple worksheet for introduction and orientation to the Portland Art Museum galleries. Download

Gallery Tour Worksheet Designed for students to use in the Impressionism Gallery, but can be used in any gallery. Download

Museum Activities Tool Kit Designed and compiled by the Portland Art Museum Docents & Education Department, this valuable all-in-one resource includes eleven Museum activities, suggested works of art and Story Map worksheet. These activities were developed to improve storytelling and literacy skills through museum visits, and to aid in your tours in engaging students and visitors. Includes tableau, a theater storytelling exercise, one of the most popular activities with students. Download

Object Stories Gallery: Tour Worksheet Designed to be used in the Object Stories Gallery on the Lower Level of the Portland Art Museum. Download

Object Stories: Museum Tour Overview Begins in the Object Stories Gallery (students tell stories about the personal meanings of their own objects) then connects to the objects in the Museum galleries—making the conceptual leap by illustrating how objects of all kinds carry personal and cultural stories across time and place. Download

Object Stories: Two Museum Tours Personal Stories Tour & Museum Stories Tour build connections between the meanings inside objects that students value the most, to an understanding of how meaning accumulates inside of all objects across time, cultures, and place. Download

Preparing for a Museum Visit: Classroom Lesson Plan Demonstrates how the ordinary objects of today receive and accrue meaning, providing a corollary to the same processes that take place in the objects of the Museum. Includes stories from the Object Stories online archive and links to using Online Collections. Download

“This is not a roll of tape” Warmup Exercise Can be used in the classroom and the Museum. Download

Tour Worksheets: Museum Activities Two tour worksheets guide students to make connections between personal objects and Museum objects—sets the stage for a deeper understanding of how meaning is made, and carried within all objects. Download

Visual Analysis: Alternative Methods for Thinking Critically About Art Introduction to forms of interpretation other than verbal and those that rely on visual analysis. Often used for peer-to-peer learning. Download

Word Cards Printable copy for use in Museum activities and tours. (See “Museum Activities Tool Kit”) Download

Writing a Letter to a Work of Art: Museum Activity Worksheet for developing narrative, characterization and descriptive writing skills; encourages students to spend more time looking deeply at one piece of art. Can be used in conjunction with images from Online Collections, too. Download

Writing in the Galleries: Museum Activity Students describe museum objects using visual analysis and descriptive word cards (see “Word Cards” download, above). Students relate and engage with art objects through discussion and writing a letter to an art object, artist, or figure in the work. Includes “Writing a Letter to a Work of Art” worksheet, uses Common Core Standards for narrative writing (6.W.3) Download


Object Stories Lesson Plans & Activities

Object Stories activities were developed in conjunction with the Object Stories: From the Middleprogram. They often utilize recorded stories from the objectstories.orgarchive for examples of oral storytelling and developing narratives around objects with personal significance. They also link to Common Core Standards for narrative writing (6.W.3).

Create Your Own: Promising Prompts for Student Storytelling, TemplateDownload

Group Exercises: Telling Object Stories Icebreakers for telling and developing stories about personal objects. Download

Narrative Writing Lesson Plan (by Alder Creek Middle School Teacher, Matt Chalmers) Includes graphic organizer for storyboarding, and prompts for developing student writing by connecting to meanings in students own, personal objects. Download

Object-Oriented Storytelling Classroom activities and Brainstorming Web graphic organizer, to encourage students in developing stories about their own objects with description and personal meaning. Uses “This is not a roll of tape” and “Crossing the line” formats. Download

Object Stories: Brainstorming  in the Classroom (by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Prompts students to think about significance and the memories and meanings that objects contain (people, place, time, descriptive language). Works well with “Word-Quilt Artmaking Activity.” Download

Object Stories: Narrative Writing Activity In this activity, students explore the meaning and significance of their own, personal objects via written narrative; for Common Core Standard 6.W.3 Includes graphic organizer “Storytelling with Objects” for brainstorming.  Download

Object Stories: Brainstorming in the Classroom (by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Prompts students to think about significance and the memories and meanings that objects contain (people, place, time, descriptive language). Works well with “Word-Quilt Artmaking Activity.” Download

Object Stories Gallery: Tour Worksheet Designed to be used in the Object Stories Gallery on the Lower Level of the Portland Art Museum. Download

Object Stories: Graphic Organizer(by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Brainstorming worksheet for developing stories from objects that students love. Download

Object Stories: Memories Worksheet(by teaching artist Michelle Swinehart) Graphic organizer for developing stories from the memories that objects carry. Download

Object Stories: Museum Tour Overview Begins in the Object Stories Gallery (students tell stories about the personal meanings of their own objects) then connects to the objects in the Museum galleries—making the conceptual leap by illustrating how objects of all kinds carry personal and cultural stories across time and place. Download

Object Stories: Writing Six-word Stories and Tags Simple worksheet for composing six-word titles for student stories, and tagging them in the Object Stories Digital Archive, so they can be found later. Download

Object Stories: Two Museum Tours Personal Stories Tour & Museum Stories Tour build connections between the meanings inside that objects that students most value, to an understanding of how meaning accumulates inside of all objects, across, time, cultures, and place. Download

Oral Storytelling Lesson Plan (by teaching artist Adele White) Theater-based storytelling activities for developing oral presentations and narratives from objects of personal value and significance. Common Core Standard 6.W.3, works well with Oral Storytelling Prep activities.Download

Oral Storytelling PrepTheater-based storytelling activities for developing oral presentations and narratives from objects of personal value and significance. Common Core Standard 6.W.3, works well with Oral Storytelling Lesson Plan. Download

Tour Worksheets Two tour worksheets guide students to make connections between personal objects and Museum objects—sets the stage for a deeper understanding of how meaning is made, and carried within all objects. Download

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