So You Want to Be an Artist? Mr. Wrigley on Applying to Art School

Stuyvesant art teacher William Wrigley’s experience over the years teaching students, as well as working in art schools, including sitting on the admissions board, has yielded a palette of insight into the art school admissions process and what makes the killer portfolio. But just as important, he recognizes the importance of nurturing artistic creativity, even if that path does not include art school.

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Art teacher William Wrigley sees tremendous artistic potential in the Stuyvesant student body, even if the typical Stuyvesant students find themselves more attuned to AP Computer Science than the AP Art Studio course he teaches.

Prior to Stuyvesant, Wrigley taught in a small school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for nine years. The school had a small body of students and most of them lacked any exposure to the arts. It was here where Wrigley started falling for the purpose of drawing out the artists from within his students. “I had this idea of showing people who didn’t necessarily see themselves as artists, showing them that they could be.” He says he wouldn’t have this opportunity at LaGuardia because students already specialize in an art.

He believes that certain traits of Stuyvesant’s art curriculum can nurture and inspire a budding artist. “In general, if you’re a freshman or sophomore looking for a potential life goal after your Art Appreciation class, look at every single art class. Any hands-on class allows you to think a little differently,” he pointed out.

Wrigley should know. Back in high school, he was a STEM kid, focused on studying genetics. “And then I took a painting class in 10th grade,” he said. He was fortunate enough to go to a high school with a large art department and had teachers who were happy to help him on the path to attend art school at the Pratt Institute.

At Stuyvesant, Wrigley continues to help students with little exposure to the arts. “I’m trying to pay forward what was given to me,” he explained. Working as an art teacher at Stuyvesant and teaching AP Art Studio to hesitant STEM students with artistic potential lets Wrigley draw a full circle. “I was somebody who stumbled into this and realized how good it made me feel, and I feel like I’m in the right place,” he said.

Outside of teaching students, Wrigley also has experience working in art schools, including sitting on the admissions board. This involvement over the years has yielded a palette of insight into the art school admissions process and what makes the killer portfolio.

Though his arts admissions board days are over, Wrigley believes what art schools are looking for hasn’t fundamentally changed. One of his biggest pieces of advice for students is to maintain a sketchbook and to just try to produce any sort of art every day, just to get their hands moving. “The more you can draw and write in your book, the more personalized it can become. It will help [schools] understand your thought process as an artist,” he explained. “They need to know that you are open and adaptable to new things open to you. Showing how your process forms is so important.”

Wrigley also highlights the balance of displaying technical prowess and one’s own story and identity. “Have a piece that shows your chops. If you can finesse one piece, make sure it shows a really clean, accurate rendering,” he said. “If you’re doing a still life to show your technique, then the objects have to have meaning. If you’re doing a self-portrait, you need to be able to explain the emotion in your head as you were doing it.”

Most importantly, though, students should work on their own style rather than copying another artist’s style.“Your art to show your own vision, your own sense of composition, your own sense of color, sense of narrative. It has to be truly yours,” Wrigley advised.

Characteristics that have defined Stuyvesant students pose both an advantage and disadvantage for students in the art world. “I think that at Stuy, people are coming from a more informed position of knowing what their art is. Everyone here is doing it because they are thinkers,” he explained. When the time comes that a Stuyvesant student is creating their portfolio for an art school, he worries about the usual Stuyvesant traits of being literal and perfectionist to hold back the student, “Don’t let perfectionism box you in. The time for perfectionism is the last 10 percent when you’re bringing it in for a landing, not the first 40 percent,” Wrigley warned.

A lot of Wrigley’s philosophy stems from throwing out this ‘Stuyvesant urge’ to be perfect and not shying away from, as Bob Ross puts it, “happy accidents.” “To live in your material means you’re seeking out those accidents. If you’re a painter, let the paint take over sometimes. Sometimes the materials should show you where it’s going to go,” he describes. “When you put a little too much water in, and a line deviates from what you intended, instead of starting over, instead of painting over, embrace that change.”

A big part of a prospecting art school student is hesitance because of the notion that an artistic path is not secure or lucrative. “Well first, I would applaud them on their realism,” Wrigley said. “Really, what art school gives you is an opportunity to study more intensely, and get kind of brutal feedback. If you’re thinking it might not be a great financial idea, you are a Stuyvesant student,” he explained.

He highlights that one does not need to pursue an art degree or career in art to be an artist. “Art is not solely about its financial aspect and if you make art at home and it is something that enriches your life to make and is not sold at a gallery in Chelsea, that still matters. That still counts. At the very least, don’t let the stereotype of the starving artist dissuade you from loving your art,” he urged. “Please, please, please, make art for yourself.”