5.3 Things to Avoid in your Portfolio

3 min readoctober 27, 2020


Sherry Ross

AP Art & Design 🎨

18 resources
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Are There Things I Just Shouldn't Do?

The answer is yes and no. There are some things that just don't work well for a Sustained Investigation by their very nature. There are others that are just so overdone, so might want to avoid them. There are some that are trite and don't have enough "meat on the bone" to successfully explore them. This list will explain some of them. After you check it out, head over to What is an Inquiry, and read up on how to select a successful one or beef up your already existing idea.
Keep in mind that this is just a list of suggestions to avoid. You want to make artwork that speaks your truth and tells your story. However, out of all of the times that something overdone is submitted to AP, there can be a shining example that breaks the rule. If you aren't sure it will be you.... try to come up with something you will be amazed with!
  1. Copyrighted characters—Unless you are Bob Kane, Batman is not your creation. The College Board is hip to this. It's morally wrong to present it as your artwork, it's also illegal. Avoid all copyrighted characters, images, trademarks, logos, etc.
  2. Anime—You shouldn't use anime replicated from videos, graphic novels, etc. If you create your own characters and develop a storyline, that's a very different thing than "fan art". Here's a great example of an AP Art student that created their own graphic novel. Keep in mind this is a legacy (old test version) example, but it is really well done and speaks greatly to individuality and student voice.
  3. Trite ideas—These are things like "My Friends", "Music", "Hands", "A day at the beach", "My Family", "Eyes are the Windows of the Soul", etc. They are very simplistic and don't offer much beyond a simple visual representation. If you really want to do portraits of your family, for example, think of how it can become an INQUIRY. A simple idea like "Portraits of my family" be changed to something like "What shared activities bring my family closer together?" which would allow you to show a depth of exploration of the topic.
  4. The Seven Deadly Sins—This one has been done to death. It's low hanging fruit and it often listed on "AP Idea" lists. Try to avoid these lists, unless you are using it as a starting point to think of another investigation.
  5. Pretty much ANYTHING on Pinterest or an AP Idea list—See above. These are listed because they have been done soooooooo many times, BY OTHER PEOPLE. If you think you can bring something to it that the previous 57,498 people who did exactly that topic, did... go for it. But, it really is better to find a topic that has some personal relevance to you.
  6. Internal Relevance—Avoid a topic that is so YOU specific, others can't really access it. While you want your Guiding Question and Inquiry to be personally relevant, it can't exclude everyone else. As much as you might want to do "How do I feel when I listen to my favorite music?" your audience won't have access to the music. They might never have heard, it even if you list it. Depicting these ideas visually is also exceedingly hard.
However, finding an important, personally relevant topic and making it accessible for others can create amazing artwork. It can inform the viewer about an internal conflict they might have no prior experience with, such as this incredible AP submission dealing with the body dysmorphia experienced by a transgender student.
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