PTSD: Portfolio trauma stress disorder. – By @zoejessicad

By Zoe Jessica Dawson


PTSD: Portfolio trauma stress disorder.


Today we had our first ‘portfolios’ masterclass.


The time has come for us to get ourselves a big black folder, to get used to taking it on the bus (and off with us), to start filling it with work.

It’s time for me to go up to the attic at my mums house and get down the dust-covered portfolio that hasn’t seen daylight since 2014.


We’re at portfolio school. I should have foreseen my need for a portfolio. But still the thought filled me with a nostalgic sense of dread.


I have three vivid memories of my portfolio. The Ruskin, the Slade, and Central St Martins.


In October 2013 my portfolio was full of very student-y, slightly provocative, uncomfortably feminist artworks. My stuff largely had a collage-y aesthetic made up of life drawings and paintings, photography, magazine cutouts and graffiti, some of which was overlaid with video. Sounds about as overly complicated as it was. The narrative of the main chunk was about the male gaze, the art/porn divide and the line between beauty and sexualisation. Sounds about as 17 year old girl cliche as it was. There were also a lot of life drawings and some nice paintings of mountains.


I was really, really proud of it.


As “the” art kid in a highly academic school, I didn’t have any competition or any support, so I saw my art and my dreams of becoming an artist in a bit of a vacuum.

And, as the art kid in a highly academic (& highly competitive) school, while I had somehow convinced my parents and teachers to let me apply to art school it was on the condition that I got into one of the three ‘best’ art schools in the country.


So my mum and I squeezed my portfolio into the boot of her mini and drove to Oxford. I handed it over, pointed out the big sticker with my name on. I had my interview, I went to the pub for a glass of prossecco feeling empty without the book in my arms, and I drove home excited for the letter I was certain I’d receive.


The letter I received was a small envelope, not a thick one. It didn’t contain a prospectus. I cried for two days.


A month later my portfolio was better. There was more video work in it, less life drawing. It was edgier. It was more Slade-worthy.


And so off we went, my portfolio and me, on the train up to Charing Cross. I was late for my 10.30 slot, I ran through the station with my huge folder weighing me down. It was a nightmare on the tube full of Christmas shoppers but on I went to Warren Street. I made it on time. They only had it for the day. The letter came a week later. This time I only cried for an afternoon.


By January, my heart wasn’t in it. The doubt had crept in along with the daily panic attacks and all I could think about was getting through the last few months of school. My interview at Central St Martins was the day after my 18th birthday. I lugged my portfolio up to London again, this time the night before. I tucked it in a corner of my then boyfriends tiny uni accommodation, left it be and got really drunk. The next morning I walked it to Kings Cross with my tail between my legs. I missed my slot and though the cool girl with blue hair and a million piercings took it, I’m pretty sure no one opened it.


When I got my book back, I hid it completely. I ignored the feedback from the Ruskin and the Slade, who had both said I should do a foundation course, and I ‘fell back’ on my academic capability. I got into UCL to study a BASc in Arts and Science. I dropped out after the first term but the damage had been done. As far as I was concerned, I’d handed in my creativity and traded it for 1st class essays, an eating disorder and the safety of knowing I didn’t have to put my self expression out on the line again.


Marc also said today that we need to know our story, and this is mine. When I applied to SCA I took a gamble on the creativity that I knew I’d once had but had hidden in the attic unseen in 5 years. I think the bet is paying off.


So I’m ready to dust off the old book, because this time round, criticism will be fuel, rejection will be opportunity and my creativity will be non-negotiable.


My portfolio is going to be bulletproof.


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