Are portfolio days for real?
November 10, 2009 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I recently attended a National Graduate Portfolio Day for students interesting in pursuing an MFA. I had a positive response, making me feel confident about my work and its presentation. However, I am suspicious, as I haven't heard anyone telling stories that they were really chewed out or criticized by their reviewers. I actually tried to push some of my reviewers to give me negative feedback, but they were ultimately optimistic. Are these things for real, or are they just a way for schools to talk people into applying?
posted by davidriley to Education (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've never heard of a National Graduate Portfolio Day, but I do know that MFA programs have sprouted up in the past decade or so all over the country and some of them are huge money makers for colleges and universities. That's not to say some of them aren't quality programs, but I would definitely be discretionary about where you sink your time and money. Have you heard of this blog and the book that goes along with it? It's has a ton of useful information about programs. Good luck.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:19 AM on November 10, 2009

Sorry, I assumed totally blindly you were thinking of getting an MFA in writing, instead of visual arts. So my comment/link is probably not very useful, after all.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:24 AM on November 10, 2009

As someone who is in an MFA program (but didn't attend a portfolio day - I just applied to a bunch of schools without visiting any of them because I had no money to travel at the time), I generally get the sense that universities do portfolio day to drum up attendance and applicants. As with most MFA programs, the reviewers are generally congratulatory and optimistic BEFORE YOU ARE ACCEPTED, however you WILL get chewed out once you are IN said program. You expect to be criticized once you're in an MFA program, but these portfolio days are to glean information about the school mostly, to look at your work to loosely evaluate if you are even "graduate material". I suspect that they are into EVERY work they look at, and if someone with lackluster talent* (in the reviewers' eyes) applied to their program in all seriousness, they might not get in. There are only a handful of art schools that actually hold portfolio days, so I know some idea of who you're talking about.

*I'm not saying you have lackluster talent, btw. I meant that as someone who might apply to an MFA program that really has no business applying in the first place.

Also, I have no idea in what field you are applying to, so if it's something other than the visual arts specifically, then I have no idea how that end of it works.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 9:43 AM on November 10, 2009

Also, MFA programs have not recently sprouted up in the last 10 years. Portfolio Day is a somewhat relatively new thing, but actual MFA programs have been around since WWII.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 9:47 AM on November 10, 2009

Did you speak to a range of schools, in terms of competitiveness? Who were the representatives from each school? I went to one last year and found that the more critical responses came from the more competitive schools (eg Mass Art), and from professors (as opposed to program coordinators and such).

However, I did chat with a lot of prospective students in line and no one said they were told not to apply -- some were directed to look into a post-BA year to develop ideas or missing skills, though.
posted by xo at 9:53 AM on November 10, 2009

I'm in the same boat, though I haven't been interested in any of the Portfolio Days. California Institute had been sending me a lot of information about this thing, and I hadn't assumed that CalArts would be pushing complete crap, though I might be wrong.

FWIW, through interviews I've read in interviews with, again, CalArts faculty, that they actually look for somewhat half-baked portfolios and statements because that means that the student is more likely to be receptive to schooling. Maybe they're more geared toward helping you with an admissions portfolio, not a professional one.
posted by cmoj at 11:14 AM on November 10, 2009

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