How to Present Your Art in Portfolios and Exhibitions

As an art student, you present your works at various times in your emerging art career.

How you prepare your work for presentation depends on the time, the place, and to whom you will be showing it. Knowing how to present your art correctly in a portfolio or gallery will determine how well it’s received by the audience or public.

The following things should be found in your portfolio:

  • clear, professional presentation
  • strong editing and sequencing
  • focused body of work
  • potential for creative exploration
  • original, creative voice

In addition to your visual work, you will be asked to supply a statement of purpose.

This statement should describe your background in the arts, and put the pieces you are showing into a context.

The statement should clearly state:

  • what the work is about
  • how it is informed or influenced
  • how it is made, including process and materials
  • what your professional aspirations are as an artist

By contrast, once you are enrolled in your actual classes, you are presenting works that are still in progress.

In these cases, there is less reason to design a presentation. Your audience is a supportive faculty member who knows your past work and is encouraging experimentation. Risk-taking is something that is usually encouraged at this point.

The dialogue in a critique should address these topics:

  • Is the work finished? If so, why do you feel that it is?
  • The intent of the piece
  • Its strengths or weaknesses
  • Future directions the work will take
  • Techniques employed in the work

Finally, as students prepare for a capstone exhibit, they will be showing actual, finished works only.

You want to make a professional statement with the selection and arrangement of your works.

This may include:

  • matting works
  • framing works
  • installing and curating the exhibition
  • supplying information such as titles, dates and media through labels
  • lighting set for optimum display

Written statements here should be more informed about your vision or intent with the work. You will want to use the artist’s statement to educate your viewer about who you are, what you envision your work to be about, and what your desired response is to your art.

While it is easy to say that the work must “speak for itself”, you will also be required to understand how to speak about the work and engage your audience with your individual studio practices.

During each of these stages, students should take the time to consider their audience and be aware of how their work should be selected and presented.

Anytime you are exhibiting your art, you are opening yourself up to critique.  You should always seek responses to what, and how, you present yourself in your work. As a professional artist, you quickly understand that the only way to continue to grow artistically is to welcome this dialogue.

Contributed by Andre Van De Putte, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

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