How to Write a Good Common App Essay about Art

We received this question via email recently and we thought it was such an important question that we’re addressing it in this blog post. The question:

“I'm currently at the end of my Junior year in high school and I just read your article on writing college essays about art to look for some guidance. I noticed that the majority of the article referred to performing arts and film. I am planning on writing my college essay very soon, within this year, but I would like some insight on how to go about writing my topic on the traditional side of art without it sounding cliché. I really wanted to include art in my essay because it is a very important aspect of my life, it allows me to convey my thoughts and emotions.”

--Picas So Confused

The answer: 

Art is like, really complex. Totally. We get it. We’ve written about college essays and art , art supplements , and how to craft your college essay to reflect your creative side, and so on. But we wanted to more deeply explore the above question of how to craft an essay about more “traditional” art without it being bad. We had a few immediate reactions to this question that we’ll break down:

Art is an easy cliche

Plain and simple, writing about a piece of art, or your artistic approach, is cliche if done without careful thought (and probably a lot of bad drafts ). We can’t think of a more boring essay than one about a singular piece of art. That’s what your arts supplement is for -- to show your art. Your essay, on the other hand, is an opportunity for you to tell a story. And not a story about how much you love art, but rather a story that shows how much you have invested in and how much of your life is reflective of this creative process.

An essay about art can be good if it’s not about art

We know this might sound like a confusing, circular statement, but hear us out: a piece of writing can be thematically related to something without actually being ABOUT it. We advise our students to identify something small, and to make their essay about that small thing while invoking the larger thing, instead of making an essay about the bigger thing.

So for example, a student we had last year is an incredible artist. Their supplement was outstanding, they’d won a bunch of awards, and even sold their art for substantial amounts of money. It was certainly tempting to latch onto one of those big-ticket, flashy pieces and tell a story about it, or to discuss their “approach to the artistic process,” by exploring their process. Instead, we worked with them to find a relatively obscure story from years prior when the student came into contact, and ultimately, conflict , with someone in the world as a result of their art. It was barely about the art itself, and more about the human element of this conflict.

In short: no matter what your topic, but in this case it’s art, don’t knock the reader over the head with your views on art or approach to art, and instead work to find a creative and interesting way to highlight your passion about art by telling a story. The story should not be overwhelmed with description ( a description isn’t an essay ), but rather structured in such a way that has a clear beginning, a middle, and an end, with a narrative, individual voice weaved throughout. And on that note:

Make sure it’s personal

What made us most concerned about the direction of this question is the phrase “traditional side of art,” because it doesn’t sound very personal . It’s easy to take a subject and to intellectualize your involvement and interest in it. That’s not what’s going to force admissions officers to wake up out of their fog after reading hundreds of boring essays that end with “What I learned from this experience…” This is where we’ll challenge you to make this essay intensely personal (not saying you need to fact, please don’t ). When we say intensely personal, we mean the narrative voice that you use and the story that you tell. The events that make up who we are, why we care, and how we express that care, are likely small moments that lead up to the big moments. That’s what we challenge you to write about when it comes to writing about “art.” Do the work ( we’ve written out a step-by-step guide here ) to isolate some moments you may have forgotten about because they aren’t obvious, and explore those. They may very well be where the essay is.

Please feel free to reach out with any and all essay questions -- we love answering questions that are useful to you!

Common App Admissions Essays

I tried to hold the canvas as close to me as possible without risking touching it. It was dry, but with oil paints you never really know. It’s painting care 101: Don’t move your painting around when it’s wet. Any artist worth her salt knows that. But if you had spent the better part of a month – sometimes fourteen hours straight a day – painting, you couldn’t wait to deliver it either.

I used to assume that ‘real’ artists are passionate about the process of art: the meticulous mixing of colors in search of that right shade, the thrill of sliding down the sleek brush down the white canvas and watching the paint settle in the fibers, the smooth transformation of hues as they fuse together, the slow evolution of the picture.

But not me.

I’d always worried that I must be a lousy artist as far as true passion goes. My enthusiasm lasts for all of the first hour. After that every painful, imperceptible movement of the brush is an irritating itch; every line that doesn’t follow the path I dictate, every shade that changes colour without my explicit permission, and all the annoying invisible details that I have to somehow find, decipher and change (and then change again and again, like running blindfolded through a maze, hoping this time I’m on the right path) until it looks about right, is a frustrating process.

But watching the picture slowly fill up the blank canvas like the pieces of a puzzle coming together is somehow fascinating.  When the last inconsistency in color is glossed over, the small extra fleck of paint is dissolved and the last touch of white to make sure his eyes gleam a little brighter is duly placed, and you finally get to lay down the brush, take a few steps back and look at your handy work – that’s where the true magic lies. A bold face peeks out from his two dimensional world, his eyes following you around as if he knows who it was that sat by him day in and day out.

It often feels as though the face is no longer just layers of dyes that I diligently painted but a life force that sneaked onto my canvas over night when I wasn’t looking. The enchantment of the final piece has always been incentive enough for me to chain myself to a piece of cloth for months; so I can ‘wear’ it around proudly like a badge of honor when I take it to the exhibition.

Yet I often find myself trying to recall every difficult detail of the process to feel in its possession again and reestablish my identity as the artist. Because stepping away also makes everything impersonal. The flat familiar face that had become almost a friend becomes a stranger again. The connection I feel with the portrait ends with the process and I find that as much as I love my finished piece, I miss that intimacy. I miss the sheer exhilaration of figuring out what is wrong and the surge of power I feel when I can set it right.

It’s a very quiet unobtrusive sort of power but to feel it, is to truly feel alive. Painting might have once introduced me to it but now I can recognize it for what it is every time I figure out a twisted physics question, or get off a podium knowing I braved every one of my demons by giving a speech: the feeling of triumph over my fears and weaknesses.

I don’t worry about the authenticity of passion anymore. It’s not about enjoying every second, but loving every second enough to persevere through the boredom, frustration and fear because, inevitably, the realization dawns that the struggle is what makes the destination worth the road. And passion is just my insatiable thirst to overcome that challenge. 

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college app essays about art

Nasim Mirzajani

Chemical engineering, accepted at common app, graduated yale '18, more common app essays.

college app essays about art

College Admissions Essay: My Passion For Art

When you love to do something, you want to do it every day, all the time, till you get sick of it. Even then that excitement and devotion to do it is still there. That is how I feel about art. I have a great passion for it. It is a form where I can express myself in a way words can’t. Ever since I was little, I had this thing for doing whatever I wanted when it came to drawing, coloring, and such. I remember when I was in kindergarten, we would do this activity where the teachers make the students grab a bunch of crayons, and they would tell us in which direction to move them, without lifting them of the page. I never did this activity. Once they gave me the paper and the crayons, I was a goner. I wouldn’t even realize we were doing that activity. I just filled the page with color, making it look as I pleased. The teachers never told me anything because they could obviously see I loved drawing, so basically, they would let me do what I wanted during that time. To this day, this still happens. I lose myself in what I’m drawing. Everything else doesn’t matter, it’s all just blur. Now that I’m more grown, I have more of an appreciation for art. I identify more by it. I …show more content…

In this essay, the author

Each drawing. Each painting. Each sculpture. It can give you a glimpse of what is going on in the artist’s head. Take the painting “El Autobus” by Frida Kahlo as an example. It has been said that the painting is in reference of the accident Frida Kahlo had where she got impaled by a metal handrail. The painting is of a bench with people sitting on it just before boarding the bus. This kind of artwork, where the artist puts a little bit of him/her self in it is something I strive for. I want to make art that reflects me, or that means something to me. I don’t want to make something just because, I want it to be where the viewer could possibly see the hard work, the passion, the emotion behind it. Things that most times get

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“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” Albert Einstein, famous physicist, had once said this. It’s true, as when others are producing ideas or creating solutions to things, you in turn start to think of your own. Yet, a lot of the times when I think of this statement, it reminds me of myself and art. In my free time, I love to look at other’s art and see their reasoning behind the picture – and then find myself start drawing the next second, feeling inspired by that particular artists reasoning. Every day if I can, I’ll look at all sorts of works by artists – sculptures, paintings, sometimes even dolls! Weirdly, I find myself always going back to the simple drawings on a paper and then making a few drawings of my own. Thus bringing a

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The pencil liberates my stresses and sorrows. Bare and unimpeded, my mind is able to isolate itself from anything that was happening in my life. At my art table, which is merely an escape from reality, my curiosity is able to wander. Within this room, five blank canvas's look in on me as I become a mold of my imagination. A step inside my world develops into a sea of color and exploration. The vibrancy of the walls resonates throughout. Over the years, my room has served as my oasis. It’s my escape from monotonous and mundane routines. It’s my exploration of another side of me. I observe such works of art almost as much as I create. Taking notice of my classmates’ innovations and inspired by their creativity, my paintbrush begins to alleviate stress. I strive to produce pieces others will appreciate, but often find myself to be the true admirer. My pride, in this world, is driven simply by my own curiosity to express myself. I credit this side of me as the “passion” that supplements my insane drive for success. This passion has sparked critical thinking in me as well as how I see failure. Life is a blank canvas and you can truly draw whatever you want, and if you fail, you start over and don’t make that same mistake again! Hard work takes ideas quite far, but true success is derived from ingenuity and the generation of

College Admissions Essay: My Pursuit Of Aesthetics

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college app essays about art

College Essays About Art

Free College Admissions Essays: Art is My Life - 3825 Words Essay

"Handiwork" - Sample Common Application Essay for Option #1

Vanessa writes about her love of crafts in her common application essay.

The prompt for option #1 of the 2018-19  Common Application states, " Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story ." Vanessa wrote the following essay in response to the prompt:

I made slipcovers for my doll house furniture when I was ten. I had a nice matching set for the living room—a sofa, an arm chair, and an ottoman—all in a gray and pink floral pattern. I didn’t dislike the furniture, but on a rainy Saturday, I decided it was time to switch things up a little bit, so I dug out some scrap material—navy blue—along with some thread, a needle, and a pair of scissors from my mother’s sewing desk. A few days later, my doll house family had a nice, newly reupholstered living room set.

I’ve always been a crafter. From the early days of Kindergarten macaroni ornaments, to making my own prom dress last year, I’ve had a knack for creating things. For drafting sketches, drawing plans, making calculations, gathering supplies, adding finishing touches. There is something so satisfying about holding something you, and you alone, have made—something that was just an image in your mind until you set about to bring it into existence, to create something new, something different. I’m sure there are hundreds of doll furniture sets out there in that same gray and pink, but there is only one with fitted (albeit with sloppy stitching) navy blue covers. There’s a sense of pride there, however small.

I’ve been lucky to have the time, the energy, and the resources to be artistic, to craft things. My family has always encouraged my efforts whether I be sewing a Christmas gift or building a bookcase. As my projects have evolved, I’ve come to realize that making things, useful or otherwise, is very much an important part of who I am. It allows me to make use of my imagination, creativity, logic, and technical skills.

And it’s not just about making something for the sake of making something. I feel a connection to my mother’s family, from a rural village in Sweden, when I make candles. I feel a connection to my grandmother, who passed away last year, when I use the thimble she gave me when I was thirteen. I feel resourceful when I use leftover wood scraps from our new barn to make coasters for the coffee table. Crafting for me is not just a hobby, not something I do when I’m bored. It’s a way to use my environment, to discover tools, and shortcuts, and new ways of looking at things. It’s a chance for me to use my head and my hands to make something pretty, or practical, or fun.

I don’t plan on majoring in art, architecture, design, or anything remotely craft-based. I don’t want it to be my career. I think a part of me is worried that I’ll lose my love of making things if there’s homework involved, or if I have to rely on it for a paycheck. I want it to stay a pastime, to stay a way for me to relax, enjoy myself, and cultivate a sense of independence. I’ll never stop being a crafty person—I’ll always have a box of colored pencils, or a sewing kit, or a cordless drill on hand. I don’t know where I’ll be in twenty years, or even ten. But I know wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I will be the person I am because of that little girl, patiently sewing together tiny pieces of fabric on her bedroom floor: creating something great, something new, something entirely her own.


A Critique of Vanessa's Essay

In this critique, we'll look at the features of Vanessa's essay that make it shine as well as a few areas that could use improvement.

The Essay Title

If you read the tips for essay titles , you'll find that Vanessa’s title fits within one of the recommended strategies: it is clear, succinct, and straightforward. We quickly know what the essay is about. Granted, her title isn’t creative, but creative titles aren’t always the best approach. With some exceptions, too much cleverness or puniness in a title tends to please the writer much more than the reader. The short title has the added advantage that it isn't adding much to the word count. Keep in mind that the title counts towards the length limit.

For the 2018-19 academic year, the Common Application essay has a word limit of 650 and a minimum length of 250 words. At 575 words, Vanessa's essay falls at the upper end of this range. This is a good place to be. You'll certainly come across college counselors who adhere to the belief that less is always more, that the admissions staff is so overwhelmed with applications that they greatly appreciate a 300-word essay. There is certainly truth to the idea that a tight 300-word essay is far preferable to a wordy, rambling, fluffy 650-word essay. However, better yet is a tight, engaging essay in the 500 to 650 word range. If a college truly has holistic admissions, the admissions folks want to get to know you as an individual. They can learn a lot more in 600 words than 300. There is no consensus on the ideal essay length , but Vanessa's essay is certainly fine on this front.

Vanessa has avoided all of the bad essay topics , and she is wise to have focused on something for which she has true passion. Her essay tells us about a side of her personality that may not be apparent from the rest of her application. Also, the subtext of Vanessa's essay could work in her favor. Vanessa's description of her love of crafts says a lot about her: she is good with her hands and working with tools; she has acquired hands-on skills designing, drawing, and drafting; she is creative and resourceful; she takes pride in her work. These are all skills and personality traits that will serve her well in college. Her essay may be talking about handiwork, but it is also providing evidence of her ability to handle the challenges of college-level work.

Overall, Vanessa has written a fine essay, but it is not without a few short-comings. With a little revision, she could get rid of some of the  vague language . Specifically, she uses the words "things" and "something" numerous times.

The biggest concern has to do with the last paragraph of Vanessa's essay. It could leave the admissions folks asking  why  Vanessa does not want to make her passion into her major or her career. In many cases, the most successful people are those who have turned their passions into their professions. A reader of Vanessa's essay is likely to think she would make an excellent mechanical engineer or art student, yet her essay seems to reject these options. Also, if Vanessa loves working with her hands so much, why not push herself to develop those skills further? The idea that “homework” might cause her to “lose [her] love of making things” makes sense on one hand, but there’s a danger in that statement as well: it suggests that Vanessa doesn’t like homework.

The Overall Impression

Vanessa's essay succeeds on many fronts. Keep in mind why a college asks for an essay. If a college wants to see more than your grades and standardized test scores, it means the school has a holistic admissions process . They want to get to know you as a whole person, so they want to give you a space to reveal something about yourself that may not come across in the other areas of your application. They also want to make sure you can write in a clear and engaging manner. Vanessa succeeds on both fronts. Also, the tone and voice we find in Vanessa's essay reveals her to be an intelligent, creative, and passionate person. Ultimately, no matter what essay option you choose for the Common Application, the admissions committee is asking the same thing: "Is this applicant someone who we think will contribute to our campus community in a positive and meaningful way?" With Vanessa's essay, the answer is "yes."

Want to Learn More About Common Application Essay Option #1?

Along with Vanessa's essay above, be sure to check out Carrie's essay "Give Goth a Chance" and Charlie's essay "My Dads."  The essays demonstrate that you can approach this essay prompt in extremely different ways. You can also check out tips and sample essays for the other Common Application essay prompts.

college app essays about art

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College Admissions Essay: The Art Of Drawing

college app essays about art

Show More Everyone has a special talent or ability, my talent is drawing. I wasn’t born an artist or particularly skilled at all, but I knew from a young age that talents are what set us apart from others and make us unique. In elementary and through middle school, I was encouraged by my teachers and parents to find my talent or interest. However, nothing genuinely interested me and I didn’t consider myself talented. Though I hadn’t found my talent ,by the start of middle school , if not earlier, the people close to me had found their talents or interests and they began to pursue it. As time passed, everyone was perfecting their talents, yet I still had not found mine. But, towards the end of middle school, I discovered Japanese animated stories through …show more content… The fact that I was terrible at drawing didn’t deter me from taking interest in it and to improve, I practiced by looking at drawing tutorials, observing different drawing styles and illustrating from real life. Little by little, I could see that my drawing skills were slowly changing. Moreover, it motivated me to keep improving myself. Through the years, I idolized the idea that art is a way to express my emotions and thoughts and I treated it as a way to use my creativity. With these ideals, I strived to change my terrible drawing skills to express myself better and I ventured into different mediums of art. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school , on a day that I looked back at the drawings from middle school, that I realized that my drawing skills have drastically improved, and that drawing is not just an interest or talent to me, it is an accomplishment. Drawing is my talent and my drawing skills are an accomplishment because I was not blessed with my skills, I made them through my hard work, years of practice, and determination to improve. When I take interest in something, I am determined to exceed at

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college app essays about art

Art College Application: My Motivation to Study Visual Arts

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college app essays about art


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  1. How to Write a Good Common App Essay about Art

    That's what your arts supplement is for -- to show your art. Your essay, on the other hand, is an opportunity for you to tell a story. And not a

  2. The Colour of Passion

    It was dry, but with oil paints you never really know. It's painting care 101: Don't move your painting around when it's wet. Any artist worth her salt knows

  3. art-college-application-essay-example.pdf

    No idea what are the important elements of an art college essay? Read this art college application essay example and know what elements should be included.

  4. College Admissions Essay: My Passion For Art

    The arts have influenced my life in amazing ways. Throughout my life, art has been the place I run to and my escape from the world. As I've grown older, art has

  5. College Admissions Essay: The Art Of Drawing

    It's undeniable that I'm an artist, hard and true, for a pencil found its way into my hand as a child, and no desire of mine nor of the universe ever tempted it

  6. College Essays About Art

    And not a story about how much you love art, but rather a storyВ .If you are an artist, your essay can be about your artistic medium. Tell a Story. When we talk

  7. Handiwork

    Read "Handiwork," a sample college application essay written for Common ... the energy, and the resources to be artistic, to craft things.

  8. The Essay That Got Me into Art School

    Accepted Essays for Art School! When you're applying to art programs, it's difficult to write an essay that describes your artwork-- so we

  9. College Admissions Essay: The Art Of Drawing

    I wasn't born an artist or particularly skilled at all, but I knew from a young age that talents are what set us apart from others and make us unique. In

  10. Art College Application: My Motivation to Study Visual Arts

    I believe the School of Visual Arts offers an environment where I can build a foundation in my art and explore deeper into drawing especially