Prospective Tufts students applying to the BFA or Combined Degree programs at SMFA at Tufts are required to submit a visual art portfolio of 15-20 images and/or up to 10 minutes of time-based work. And that’s the only requirement you’ll see from us. There’s no list of mediums you need to represent and no restrictions on the work you can submit. When creating and curating your portfolio, you get to decide what’s important, just like our students do when selecting classes in our all-access, individualized curriculum.
Because we are an interdisciplinary program, we value students who are interested in progressing both their technical skills and conceptual interests—it’s the combination of these two strengths that allows our students to create ground-breaking work that changes the world. Ultimately, we want to see students who are interested in using their skills in service of their ideas. Here are some ways to think about how your creative decision-making can be used to showcase your concepts:
All too often, we’re told that we need to obey the rule of thirds in composition—regardless of the medium. We disagree. Often, yes, this is a great compositional rule because it can create a dynamic image that pulls the viewer in and around the picture. There’s no right or wrong composition; it’s about choosing the composition that best achieves the goal of the work and making sure that the other elements (like all the things below) support that too. For example, for an image that’s more striking or iconic, you could choose to use a centralized composition and pair it with graphic, illustrative line-work.
When drawing, using the full range of light-to-dark tones can create a striking image and allow the artist to render more realistically. On the other hand, if you want to create a drawing that feels ethereal or ghostly, maybe you want to purposefully limit the range of tones to better achieve that effect. Contrast is not limited to value; contrast can also be achieved through the use of color in your photographs, texture in your sculptures, weight in your performances, pattern in your designs, or pacing in your videos. Use contrast (or lack thereof) to engage the viewer in the story you want to tell.
As a student in high school, there may be limitations to the scale of materials available to you. But when you have options (welcome to art school!), the scale you choose for your work can make a huge difference in the final impact on the viewer. Work that is big (like Jumbo big) is always overwhelming—the viewer is immersed in it and can’t back away. Work that is tiny encourages the viewer to get up close and personal with your work. Regardless of the subject matter, the scale can change the interpretation of your artwork, so use it to your advantage.
Context changes everything. Think about how context—the background of an illustration or the documentation of a sculpture, for example—can impact a viewer’s understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish with the piece. Seeing a robot in 18th century Scotland is different than seeing it in a present-day setting and that’s different than seeing it riding a bus to work like every other robot in the future. Get it? The context changes the narrative. And this applies to all different media. Understanding where work is meant to exist can change its meaning. Does this photograph belong in a gallery, or is it meant to be in an unexpected public space where it confronts the viewer? Consider documenting your artwork in the setting you’ve imagined for it. If you’re making zines, print that thing out and fold it up! If you’re making t-shirt designs meant for punks to wear at basement shows, print that shirt up and send it out to the mosh pit for some pictures.
You have control of your content. Push it. If you decide to create a still life painting, make some purposeful decisions about what the subject will be. Will you paint a bowl of fruit and vase of flowers? If you’re really into fruit and flowers, go for it. But the consideration of content asks, how will you make it clear that you are showing your love of fruit and flowers instead of making a sarcastic statement about western art history? Will you paint objects that are meaningful to your childhood? Objects that represent your future? If you want to practice figurative sculpture, decide if you want one figure or two. If it’s a sculpture of two figures, what is the relationship between them? Are they close together or far apart? Are they physically leaning on each other or is one in a position of power? If you’re going to paint a landscape, will it be done in a tropical color scheme that speaks to some vibrancy or will it be muted and moody and lonesome? Every decision you make is important. These decisions allow you to transform a subject (like fruit and flowers) into content (like value and personal history).
TLDR; if you’re applying to SMFA at Tufts, use your skills in service of your ideas to push your concepts forward. The SMFA Admissions team is here to help you create and curate a portfolio that best represents you. Join us for a virtual portfolio review or attend a National Portfolio Day event to start that conversation.