Undergraduate subject guide – Fine Art

Fine art subject

By Alice Chandler,

“An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have, but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.” Andy Warhol

With many students opting to give up the study of art before even reaching GCSE level, it is obvious that it is not a subject for everyone. Choosing to study A-level in art and design will help you to develop your skills, but fine art becomes an entirely new subject at university, for those who decide that they are willing to push their creative boundaries and further explore the crazy world of art; taking on an undergraduate degree in fine art could be the answer.  You must be willing to work hard and have tonnes of self-motivation. Having confidence and the ability to talk about your own work is also a must! A degree in fine art is generally three years long and you will leave with a Bachelor of Arts.

What types of fine art degrees are available to you?

There are four main disciplines involved in the study of fine art, and some universities choose to split their fine art course in this more traditional way:

  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Photography
  • Print and time based media or Inter-media

Universities choosing to split their subject like this include:

  • Edinburgh College of Art (now part of the University of Edinburgh)
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Wimbledon College of Art (part of University of the Arts, London)
  • University of Brighton

All of which rank inside the top 30 places to study Art and Design (Guardian education league tables).

Most universities will offer a straight fine art course, where all disciplines will be mixed together, often allowing for a more productive, interdisciplinary environment.

Here are some of the top universities for studying Fine Art, again, all ranking within the top 30 in the Guardian guide:

  • UCL  (the legendary Slade School of Fine Art, notoriously hard to get into, but has produced some fantastic alumni)
  • University of Oxford
  • Newcastle University (four year course)
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Northumbria University
  • University of Leeds
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Chelsea School of Art (university of the arts London)
  • Central Saint Martins (university of the arts London)

Many of these high profile art schools will require you to complete a foundation course before you can apply. Taking a foundation course really broadens your artistic knowledge, shows your dedication to the subject and gets you ready for your undergraduate degree. Studying art at university is a massive step up from your a-levels, and foundation courses generally run from August to May to help you to prepare your portfolio for interview.

Here are some of the best places to study a foundation course according to www.whatuni.com:

  • Leeds College of Art and Design
  • Loughborough College
  • Central Saint Martins
  • Bournemouth

If you choose to study on a foundation course directly after your a-levels, there aren’t usually any fees to pay.  Lots of local colleges also offer foundation courses, so if you are unable to move away, don’t panic, as it is likely that you will be able to do your foundation closer to home.

Some important things to consider when finding the right course:

  • The studios – could you see yourself spending a lot of time there? Do they have 24 hour access?
  • The facilities - the best schools have state of the art workshops, world class IT suites and fantastic technicians to help you
  • The tutors – tutors are generally practicing artists as well, so do some background research on who might be teaching you by looking at their work

What to expect

Hard work! A fine art degree is not a three year holiday as some people might think, and it is important that you put in a lot of effort in order to make great work. The studios are a really productive and creative environment, so make sure that you motivate yourself to go in everyday. You will get the chance to critique your work with your tutors and peers, which is a great way to develop and push your work that little bit further. Students are treated as professional artists from day one; you will be able to hone your studio skills and learn art theory, history and criticality, so that you can place your work within a context of contemporary art. Often visiting artists, curators and critics will be invited to speak, offering more of an outside perspective. The degree generally ends with a final year show, which will present a culmination of everything you have learnt over the duration of the course. Students will usually get the chance to write a dissertation in final year to run alongside studio based work.

Careers you can opt for with a fine art degree

Over the duration of your degree, you will develop some highly valuable skills which are easily transferable to a wide range of jobs. As well as learning many practical and specific art related techniques, you will also gain the ability to work successfully either as an individual, or collaboratively. You will develop strong observational and analytical skills, allowing you to solve problems creatively. Setting up work for competitions and exhibitions will not only provide you with crucial organisational skills, but with entrepreneurial knowledge of how to set up and promote your work or show. Your openness to new ideas will help you to learn from criticism and be objective about your work.

Some careers you might consider could be:

  • Artist                                                         
  • Further/higher education lecturer
  • Museum/gallery curator
  • Printmaker
  • Teacher
  • Gallery manager
  • Art buyer
  • Art therapist

You will build up an impressive portfolio of work over three years; make sure you put yourself out there and enter as many competitions and exhibitions as you can! Work experience is highly valuable in the arts sector as it is a very competitive job market. Many graduates work lots of different jobs in order to support themselves in becoming an artist, or take up further study.