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College column II: the plight of the artist

This is the time of year I usually spend staying up, writing poems or making art for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.Amy ChenUnfortunately, this year is distinctly unusual. This is the time of year I will spend staying up later, writing poems, making art and working on college applications. College applications have taken over my life. Exhibit A: This column is about college applications. Exhibit B: I originally tried to write this column about anything but college applications.

Just a warning to artists who aim to go into art at a highly selective school: Your college application process will suck. Other students: Your process will also suck, but not as much. Artists will feel obligated to send in an arts supplement. Even if college arts supplements aren’t required, application instructions usually say something along the lines of “students with extraordinary talent in the arts may send an arts supplement.” That raises the question: “If I don’t send in a supplement, will they assume I don’t have extraordinary talent?” — or even worse, “If I don’t send in a supplement, will they assume I was too lazy to make one?”

To those detached from the current college application process, these questions might seem ridiculous. We want to believe college admission officials speak honestly when they say they don’t expect arts supplements. Concurrently, however, these colleges are selective to the point that students can’t help but worry. I’ve heard a story where two nearly identical applications were decided on by the difference between black and blue ink. Admissions rates are in the single digits.

When looking at the question of “Should or shouldn’t I do this?” artists envision a single image: An admissions officer looks at two nearly identical applications. One is yours. The other person has submitted an arts supplement that the art department enjoyed. The other person is accepted. You wake up from your daydream and create an arts supplement.

On the other hand, while creating the arts supplement, you panic: An admissions officer looks at two nearly identical applications. One is yours, with an arts supplement. The other person has not submitted an arts supplement. The art department hated your arts supplement. The other person is accepted. You just can’t win, can you?

But the biggest problem with this system is that each school has its own arts supplement, with different requirements. For each supplement, students have to reorganize pieces, often rewording descriptions to make sense in the context of the portfolio and writing and rewriting artist statements. Each arts supplement is like an entirely new application.

Young artists: I’m sorry for making you panic. This is the warning I wish I had received. Truthfully, make art, and make art to the best of your ability. Take chances. Submit your work to contests and publications — the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, YoungArts, your high school’s literary magazine (“Reflections” at Lake Oswego High School). The worst they can say is no. Read books, watch plays, go to concerts and visit museums.

Plan for college, but don’t do anything for college. I wish I had written an artist’s statement for every piece I’ve ever made — statements that stand on their own, without the objective of college. The hardest part of writing an artist’s statement is fighting between what I want to say with my work and what “subconscious Amy” thinks colleges want to see in it. My freshman year, a senior — also an artist — walked up to me and sighed. Referring to academics with a tinge of regret, she spoke: “Don’t do anything you don’t enjoy.” I’d like to pass on this torch. College is a stair-step, not the finish line. Do what you enjoy, and pursue your goals passionately — your passion will not necessarily guide you into every college, but it will guide you to the right one.

Amy Chen is a senior at Lake Oswego High School, and she writes a monthly column for the Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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