I am currently in high school developing a portfolio for art school. I would like some advice on how to develop a theme for a portfolio. And any advice as to how to stay consistent with the theme.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Should a portfolio actually have a "theme"? A portfolio should show what you are capable of. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 13, 2015 at 9:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ you are the theme for your portfolio \$\endgroup\$
    – null
    Jul 13, 2015 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was about to comment the exact same thing null posted. The portafolio should say "This is me, this is my vision". If you do not have a vision, a posture towards photography... you should put more effort in your photography school. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Jul 13, 2015 at 19:49

2 Answers 2


Not having ever been to art school or worked as a photographer/artist--(I've just been someone who professionally was once handed a stack of two hundred resumes to pick three interview candidates)--take my advice with a grain of salt, but I think the first thing you should do is ask the art school in question what they want you to show them in your portfolio. Different schools may have a different emphasis on what they want to see, and simply asking may get you a better, clearer picture of what it is you need to put together. And they're very likely to have guidelines available and ready for you. And if you're applying to multiple schools, consider doing separate versions of your portfolio for each school or program, if their requirements differ.

A portfolio, for any artist, is their resume. It's how you demonstrate what you do and who you are as an artist. It's how you show your work, your voice, and your talent. "Theming" doesn't really have much to do with it. You come up with themes for a specific work, if you have to--say a photo essay or an exhibition. But a portfolio is more about the past history of what you've done and are capable of doing, and (hopefully) shows where you can go in the future.

You do have to select and arrange with an eye towards flow. You may want to arrange it chronologically to show your progress as a photographer, or you may want to arrange it by types of shooting (still life vs. landscape vs. portraits). If you've done professional work, you may want to contrast that with your personal work. But always think about it not from YOUR point of view as the creator, but from the point of view of the person who will be going through dozens of these to pick who to accept for the school. Use your viewer's hat, not your photographer's hat, as it were. And possibly consider asking a third party--friend or teacher or mentor, to help you edit your choices--they may see something you'll miss because you're too close to the work.

And if you find you're throwing things into the portfolio just to make it thicker, stop. Quality, not quantity. And go out and shoot a whole lot more so you'll know you're only showcasing the best of your work. :)

See also:

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    \$\begingroup\$ As someone who went to art school and now teaches in an Art department I think this is all good advice. The points you bring up: specific requirements for the portfolio (we have them), not including everything (you will often be judged by your worst work), and showing work done outside of school (not an assignment/something that shows self direction) are all things we look for. \$\endgroup\$
    – moorej
    Jul 14, 2015 at 1:01

@inkista's answer is a good one. As someone who teaches in an Art department and sees many portfolios every semester I'll also add this: go look at as much art as you can. This could be at galleries, museums, or work in books. Whether you personally like the work often isn't as important as enlarging your knowledge and experience of art. There will be (almost certainly) some sort of personal essay that goes with the portfolio. Being able to write about how your work is influenced by contemporary or historical works of art will make for a much stronger college application, it will also (most likely) make you a better artist.

If you're at a loss for what books to look at and your main interest is photography, the text "Photography as Contemporary Art" by Charlotte Cotton gives a pretty good introduction to a number of contemporary artists working in the medium. If you're not close to any galleries or museums, a number of institutions have put images of their collection online. If you go to moma.org -> Explore -> The Collection, you can search many thousands of works.

Good luck!


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