Are you a high school student who loves creating art? Are you interested in taking an AP Art and Design course? AP Art and Design is a college-level art program backed by the College Board that helps students prepare a college-level quality art portfolio. This can be a great boon if you want to apply to an art program, as many of them require you to submit a portfolio. Even regular university programs allow students to submit portfolios that showcase their creativity.
As such, if you’re a highly artistic student, you might want to consider taking AP Art and Design during your junior year. Doing so will allow you to create a portfolio, receive feedback, and then have the summer to incorporate what you’ve learned into another portfolio that you can submit to colleges.
Once you decide that you want to take an AP Art and Design course, one question remains: which one? All AP Art and Design submissions are placed into one of three categories: Drawing, 2-D Art and Design, and 3-D Art and Design. Each has its own differences and areas of focus, along with different pass rates. Let’s walk you through each of them!
What is Covered in Each AP Art and Design Course?
Each AP Art and Design course has several things in common. The biggest is that there is no exam at the end of the course, but rather a portfolio submission. In each case, 40 percent of the score is based on a series of selected works while the other 60 percent is on images and descriptions that show how one of the pieces was created, known as the sustained investigation. However, the focus of each course is very different.
When creating this portfolio, students are asked to consider “lines, surfaces, space, light and shade, and composition. Students should consider marks that can be used to make drawings, the arrangement of marks, the materials and processes used to make marks, and the relationships between marks and ideas.” College Board defines marks quite broadly, as students are allowed to submit drawings, either analog or digital, painting, printmaking, and/or mixed media pieces. They also allow still images from videos or film, along with composites.
According to the College Board, they are looking for five selected works. They will be graded on the following:
- Drawing skills
- Synthesis of materials, processes, and ideas
- Written descriptions of:
- Visually evident ideas
- Materials and processes used
The sustained investigation is comprised of fifteen images that should demonstrate:
- Sustained investigation through practice, experimentation, and revision
- Sustained investigation of materials, processes, and ideas
- The ability to synthesize materials, processes, and ideas
- Drawing skills
Additionally, you’ll be graded on written statements that:
- Identify the questions or inquiries that guided your sustained investigation. This will likely also relate to the theme of your portfolio submission.
- Describe how your sustained investigation shows evidence of practice, experimentation, and revision
- Materials and processes used
- Size of each piece
AP 2-D Art and Design
While AP Drawing understandably focuses on elements that are at the core of drawing, like light and shade, AP 2-D Art and Design concentrates on “shape, plane, layer, form, space, texture, color, value, opacity, transparency, proportion, scale, balance, emphasis, contrast, repetition, figure/ground relationship, connection, juxtaposition, and hierarchy.” The goal is for students to consider how materials, processes, and ideas can be used to make art that exists on a flat surface.
As with AP Drawing, very few limits are placed on the type of art that can be submitted as part of the portfolio. Options include, but are not limited to, digital forms of art, photography, collages, fabric design, fashion designs or illustrations, painting, and printmaking. Composite images or stills from films are also accepted.
For the portfolio, you’ll be asked to submit pictures of five pieces that comprise your selected works. These should demonstrate your 2-D skills and ability to synthesize materials, processes, and ideas. Additionally, you’ll be asked to include short statements describing your visually evident ideas and the process and materials used.
The sustained investigation will include 15 images that show how you’ve practiced, experimented, and revised throughout the creation of your portfolio. This should also include testing different materials, processes, and ideas as you work to create your 2-D artwork. You’ll also be asked to describe this section of your portfolio in writing. The examiners want you to:
- Identify the questions or inquiry that guided your sustained investigation
- Describe how your sustained investigation shows evidence of practice, experimentation, and revision, as guided by your questions or inquiry
- Catalog the materials and processes used
- List the size of each piece
AP 3-D Art and Design
As you might imagine, AP 3-D Art and Design focuses on space and form. While there is some overlap with AP 2-D Art and Design, AP 3-D Art and Design is more interested in “volume, mass, occupied vs. unoccupied space, texture, movement, proportion, scale, and balance.” Composite images and stills from videos are still accepted, but there is an emphasis placed on “figurative or nonfigurative sculpture, architectural models, metalwork, ceramics, glasswork, installation, performance, assemblage, and 3-D fabric or fiber arts.”
Unlike the prior two, the selected works include 10 images instead of five. However, there should only be five pieces of artwork represented in the portfolio. Because these are 3D pieces, College Board allows for the submission of two pictures each. As with the other portfolios, these images should be accompanied by a written description of the art that explains the ideas behind the art and the materials and processes used.
The sustained investigation part of the portfolio is also very similar. You’ll be asked to submit fifteen images that demonstrate the questions or inquiry that guided your sustained investigation and provide a written description of how your sustained investigation shows evidence of practice, experimentation, and revision, as guided by your questions or inquiry. You’ll also need to provide a written description of the processes and materials used and size.
Overlap Between Types
The college board acknowledges that there is an overlap between the three different types of portfolios, particularly when it comes to the sustained investigation section of the submission. For example, if you are planning on doing a series of masks as part of a 3D portfolio, you might submit sketches where you designed the various masks. While a sketch would normally be part of a drawing portfolio, it can be submitted as part of an AP 3-D Art and Design portfolio if it is clearly related to the investigation of the question you’re trying to answer.
It is discouraged to submit artwork as part of the selected works section that are obviously more suited to another portfolio type. However, it is acceptable if the “divergent forms demonstrate synthesis of materials, processes, and ideas using skills related to the designated portfolio type.” Consider talking to your art teacher if you’re considering submitting a portfolio with an unusual collection of art.
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Who Should Consider Taking AP Art and Design?
As mentioned throughout this series on AP courses, you want to take courses that are aligned with your career goals and interests. While there are benefits to taking classes that aren’t aligned with your major or potential career, you want to focus your limited efforts and time where it will be most beneficial. For many students, this means taking college-level courses that will help them explore future careers.
If you’re considering AP Drawing, here are some careers that might benefit from the skills you’ll learn in the class:
- Animation: AP Drawing is all about using lines and mark-making to create art. This is also central to the art of animation: using minimal lines and curves to convince an audience of what you’re trying to show them.
- Architecture: While architecture is grounded in science, its heart is in the arts. That’s why drafts of buildings are often framed and hung on walls. Plus, a well-designed building often adds beauty to the people who see and use it.
- Illustration: While writers often get top billing on books and graphic novels, many wouldn’t be possible without an illustrator. The ability to create evocative drawings is key to this work, similar to what you’ll need to do to get a great score on the AP Drawing portfolio.
AP 2-D Art and Design
While it may seem like 2D design won’t relate to most careers, there are several that are related to the course. Here are a few:
- Film Technician: There are a number of people that work together on the production of movies, blockbusters or otherwise. Technicians can work on a variety of tasks from setting up lights to set maintenance. If you’re interested in learning these skills, you could create a portfolio based on a film!
- Curator: While most people think of museums when they think of a curator, this is a broader job description. Curators can also work with other institutions like zookeepers or publicists to produce exhibits, either for special events or publications. Learning how to arrange artwork in a pleasing manner can help with this work.
- Photographer: AP 2D Art and Design also allows students to submit a photographic portfolio. If you’re an avid photographer, this can give you the opportunity to practice your art while working towards a grade for a class, and potentially college credit!
AP 3-D Art and Design
There are multiple careers that benefit from a better understanding of 3D space. However, here are a few that are most related to taking the AP 3-D Art and Design course:
- Exhibit Designer: Whether looking at a full-scale reproduction of a sixteenth-century ship or a World War 2 era submarine, exhibit designers create displays around the world. Most work in museums, but some also work in private art galleries or even zoos.
- Urban Planner: There is always a need for planning when it comes to cities. Whether building a new suburb or renovating a square in the heart of downtown, urban planners are central to making cities function, and an understanding of 3D space is essential to well-designed cities.
- Fashion Designer: If you’d like to work on building marvelous dresses for Dior, Gucci, or any other designer, you’ll need to understand how to layer different fabrics to achieve the drape and effect sketched out by the lead designer. Taking AP 3-D Art and Design is a great way to get academic credit for experimenting with different types of fabric!
Of course, you don’t have to be pursuing an art-related major or career to take an AP Art and Design course. You can also take it for personal enrichment, enjoyment, or as an elective. Taking an AP Art and Design course can help you develop valuable skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. However, it is most valuable for students who have a related interest.
How Hard is it to Score a 5 on the Portfolio Submission?
The portfolio submission for AP Art and Design courses is not easy, but it’s not impossible either. It requires a lot of dedication, creativity, and effort. Unlike the other AP courses, portfolios are graded by at least two teachers who have experience at either the high school or university level. If the independent scores are widely divergent, they’ll be graded again by another two teachers.
Let’s start by looking at the 2022 score distribution for AP Drawing. Of the three, this one is the easiest to get a five on as 14.6 percent of students receive a top score. That being said, it’s fairly easy to pass, as 88.3 percent of students score a three or higher.
For AP 2-D and 3-D Art and Design, 10.8 percent and 6.4 percent of students score a five, respectively. Similarly, 86.6 percent of students pass AP 2-D Art and Design while 73.5 percent of students pass AP 3-D Art and Design. As such, AP 3-D Art and Design is generally considered the hardest of the three courses. Here is the full breakdown for 2022:
|2-D Art and Design
|3-D Art and Design
Preparing an AP Art and Design Portfolio
To prepare for the portfolio submission, you need to start early and plan ahead. Here are some tips to help you:
- Review the portfolio requirements and policies carefully. Make sure you understand what you need to submit, how to submit it, and what are the rules and guidelines to follow. Your AP Art teacher can help you with this.
- Choose a course that matches your interests and goals. Think about what kind of media and dimensions you want to work with, what kind of questions you want to explore, and what kind of portfolio will help you prepare for your future career.
- Develop a sustained investigation that shows your inquiry-guided process. Choose a question or topic that interests you and that you can explore in depth through practice, experimentation, and revision. Document your process with images and writing that show your development and reflection.
- Take the time to look through prior portfolios and the grades they received. Every year, the College Board posts prior portfolios so students interested in taking the class can see both good and bad examples. Here are some prior AP Drawing, AP 2-D Art and Design, and AP 3-D Art and Design portfolios for you to look through.
AP Art and Design is a college-level art program that prepares students to submit a college-level quality art portfolio. You can choose between AP Drawing, AP 2-D Art and Design, and AP 3-D Art and Design. Though, if you’re having trouble deciding, you can submit multiple portfolios in the same year, though they must contain unique pieces of art.
Any of the courses can be a rewarding experience if you love creating art. It can help you develop valuable skills, express yourself artistically, and encourage you to pursue your passions.
If you’re interested in learning more about other AP classes, you might be interested in our other blog on AP Music Theory and AP Art History!