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Focusing on a Body of Work

There is no single correct approach to explaining the Sustained Investigation (Concentration) section of the AP Studio Art Portfolio. However, this definition can serve as a guide. Sustained Investigation is the concept of producing a series of sequential visual forms—forms growing from forms—to explore in greater depth a particular visual concern. Here are some strategies to make sure your students understand the concept.

Show a slide show of past students' work. As you show each work of art, explain the criteria behind each assignment and how those criteria could be expanded into a body of related work. When students look at the images of work, have them note the following:

  • Similarities of concepts and ideas evident in the works
  • Ways the same concepts and ideas could be approached
  • Ways identical materials could be explored

This exploration will give you some concrete structures to apply when approaching ideas for the Sustained Investigation.

It's also helpful to show a series of works by an individual artist. Your students can then recognize commonalities in the artwork. They can identify ideas, subject matter, working techniques, concepts being explored, multiple approaches to a body of work, varieties of visual form, and ways the same material could be expanded upon.

Next, encourage your students to describe ideas, subject matter, elements, and principles of art being used, as well as working techniques. Analyze the structure(s) of the related pieces, and interpret any concepts being presented. You can expand on these analytical processes by having students explore an individual artist's or a group of artists' work and report back to the class.

Another approach is having students find commonalities in their own work or the work of another artist in terms of strengths, areas to be worked on, ideas, content, form, processes, or meaning. This can be done in groups or pairs.

Developing Student Ideas

Once your students understand the concept of a Sustained Investigation, they need to develop their own ideas.

To get your students to find ideas, have them identify their personal interests, passions, and likes and dislikes. In the beginning, the responses may be simple—single words or sentences in a list. As students explore further, they can expand on these initial ideas. Students should be asked to explain how other influences are brought into, or become part of, the idea they wish to pursue. Eventually, they'll be able to argue why this idea can serve as the basis of an in-depth exploration.


  • A Sustained Investigation is not a series of work involving cats, cars, emotions, and so on, appropriated from appealing images found online.
  • The Sustained Investigation idea is not discovered one week prior to the submission of a portfolio by searching for commonalities in a group of divergent works.
  • A Sustained Investigation is under way when students come to "own" their imagery, whether objective or nonobjective, based on personal observation, experience, ideas, research, and experimentation, or a combination of these.

By feeling comfortable and involved with their Sustained Investigation, students can continue to explore approaches to the concepts being developed.

Written Statements

Students submit a written commentary, called a Sustained Investigation statement, with this section of their portfolio. To guide students when they write this statement, have them identify the goals and objectives they have for their portfolio. They must also answer the following prompts:

  1. Clearly and simply state the central idea of your sustained investigation. (500 character maximum)
  2. Explain how your work demonstrates your intent and the sustained investigation of your idea. You may refer to specific images as examples. (1,350 character maximum)

Encourage your students to set standards and outcomes for their Sustained Investigation work. By knowing what they are striving for, AP students can optimize their work processes and outcomes.

Authored by

  • Jerry Stefl
    Retired Teacher
    Orland Park, Illinois