“A picture is a poem without words” - Horace

As Horace so cleverly illustrates, art is an exertion of creative influence that is personal to each and every one of us no matter how poor we think our artistic skills are (or how limited our 'visual' vocabulary is). And while art is a form of release and therapy for many, it can also be revenue for some of us should we decide to enter a creative field professionally.

If you only see yourself working in a creative environment, then art school is certainly one of the first steps to consider.

66.8% of those with a fine arts degree go on into employment, 14.4% go onto further study, 6.3% are working and studying, and only 6.7% are unemployed. These figures will probably ease the nerves of parents whose children are planning to study art and the artists themselves.

Studying art isn’t easy, though. Ideally, you’ll want to study art at GCSE and A Level before studying at university. In this article, we’ll look at the steps you’ll have to take if you want to study art.

Why Might You Want To Study Art?

There's always that one person who says "Art is an easy subject" or "an Art A Level isn't a real qualification". Well, more fool them! As we've already discovered above, more than 90% of art graduates wind up either employed or in further education, meaning that not all students are dropouts lazing about their flat painting pictures and claiming that they are on a journey - far from it!

It is time that the stereotypes surrounding art students be reconsidered.

With so many organisations adopting new angles to promote their brands in order to complement the technological ploys that are now standard practice, artists are high in demand. And if you thought that being a traditional artist who uses a fine art medium rather than a computer to complete your work would hold you back, think again. Even those illustrators who create designs in their studio by putting crayon to pen can have their work uploaded digitally and brought to life on people's screens (with minimal tech knowledge required!).

The problem is, however, that art education is at an all-time low, according to experts on the curriculum.

With budgets being tightened and schools and their staff being put under more pressure through enhanced school inspections, something's got to give and unfortunately for many establishments it's subjects like Art - non-obligatory lessons - that lose out with all of the focus being placed on the 'core curriculum', e.g. English, Maths and Science. Furthermore, languages also get put ahead of Art, Music, and Drama because of the positive benefits of having a second language on your CV when entering the world of work.

Takers of the subject have been in steady decline, but it's important to know what the many advantages of having an art qualification are.

  • It's therapeutic: 

School life is stressful enough, and what are teachers doing to offer their pupils some respite from the robotic curriculum? Art is a subject that kids can look forward to in their busy week, enabling them to take a more personal, creative approach to an individual final project. It's one of the few lessons where students can really be themselves and they can use this opportunity as an outlet for all of their built-up stress and worries. Rather than being "everybody needs to do this and this needs to be this if they want to pass", Art is more "do what you want and show how you feel and you'll be rewarded". YOU being the very important word here, as opposed to EVERYBODY.

Who wants to be like everybody all of the time? Sometimes it's good to be different and to break free from the structure of school (hence why many art students can be seen taking off their ties or blazers in class - it not only lets them work more freely but it also lets them feel more free).

  • Creativity is critical:

Being artistic is at its very essence to be critical. Artists display their take on things in their creations all the while having their works be criticised by others. And what company wouldn't want someone who can be constructively critical and give a valid opinion? Most job advertisements will mention critical thinking as one of their desired criteria, and the best workplaces will recognise this trait through their ability to think critically about the world in a creative context.

  • It improves wellbeing and happiness:

It's a well-known fact that expressive arts can build confidence and boost happiness in individuals. By finding a sense of identity, artists are able to focus on themselves and improve their mental health, all the while adding to their physical wellbeing.

Of course, there are far more reasons to love studying art - too many to list, in fact!

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What Are Art Lessons Like?

Art is very rarely one of those subjects where you go in to class, sit down and listen to a teacher whilst taking notes. Even less so at art school, because you are encouraged to be free and to really find yourself and your artistic path.

At art school (and signs of this are evident even in the later stages of secondary school), nobody is there to tell you what to do, they are there to guide you and help you to do you. Lessons often involve people walking around, listening to music, some might even be working outside on huge sculptures or some might find a quiet corner to scribble some sketches. It really is what you make it.

The art room itself is not set out like a normal classroom, yet you will find some desks, workbenches and chairs mixed with open spaces to fit in with the bustle of art classes. At art school, you will be expected to turn up at class because you want to be there, however, no one will be chasing you down if you decide to wander out of the classroom. In fact, many tutors will encourage you to go away from the confines of the room and to explore the different environments.

Other facilities of art school classrooms will include things such as paints and paintbrushes, computers, moulding clay, sinks, a kiln, a dark room, drying trays or lines with pegs and much more.

The way that the space is used means that students interact with one another as well as their tutors on the same level, able to form very different bonds with classmates and teachers. What's more, being among so much variety of art, students can learn about new media by watching their peers at work, sometimes experimenting with styles that are out of their comfort zone.

Choosing the Right School or University to Study at

Before you even start your studies, you need to choose the right school or university. You should look at what each school offers, what they specialise in, and their reputation.

Which are the best art universities in the UK?
While there are plenty of good art universities, some are better for certain fields than others. (Source: stux)

Some schools are famous for animation whilst others are famous for fine art. If you have an idea of what you’d like to do after your degree, you’ll want to make sure that you go to the right school and specialise in the right field.

If you’re not sure, then you’ll want to attend a school or university with a good art department in general. Each school of art is different and a good university mightn't have the best department of art. Conversely, a university with a relatively low reputation might offer an outstanding arts education.

Make sure you do your research first and check out the university rankings. Make sure you research what qualifications you need to go to art school.

There are plenty of great art schools and universities and a tonne of different qualifications you can do. Don’t hesitate to apply to several places as it would be silly to apply to one place and not get it.

Choosing the right uni once you’ve got your A Levels is hugely important. If you don’t enjoy the course, you’ll quickly lose interest. Make sure that you check out the universities’ websites to get a better idea of what’s on offer.

Why not get in touch with a few of them to find out more about their courses?

Whether you're interested in visual arts, ceramics, printmaking, digital media and digital art design, or general art education, art students are spoilt for choice in the UK.

Of course, you don't need to become a bachelor of fine arts in the UK. You could study abroad! There are also plenty of courses for art around the world. You could do your undergraduate degree in the UK before looking for graduate programs abroad, vice-versa, or head abroad for all of your higher education.

Find out more about studying art in school.

Put Together a Convincing Portfolio

To get onto art courses, you’re usually expected to put together a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of samples of your work and can include designs, paintings, sculpture, videos, music, etc. It might be in a sketchbook or on a flash drive depending on how you’re going to show it to people. Even musicians and dancers can have a portfolio.

How do you create an art portfolio?
Throughout your entire art career, you'll be working on and improving your portfolio. (Source: congerdesign)

Portfolios are designed to impress admissions boards or potential employers. At university, it’s not necessarily your best work that will interest them but rather examples of your artistic development and a willingness to experiment and to learn. They need to understand the type of person and artist you are from it.

Once you’re accepted into a school or university, you’ll want to start working on a professional portfolio. This will have a focus on potential employers rather than admissions boards and can have a greater focus on your style and skills.

You’ll be constantly working on your portfolio throughout your art career. Over the years, you’ll tweak and modify it ensuring that it’s current and representative of you as an artist.

Art School: Grades Aren’t Everything

By the time you finish secondary school, it’s hard not to think that your exam results define you as a person. However, once you get into the world of art, people will care less about your exam results and more about your art.

In the world of art, your portfolio is worth more than your transcript and in some cases, it’ll be worth more than your degree itself. This is why self-taught artists can start their careers without having done a degree in art.

Of course, while you’re at school or university, you’ll need to pass the exams to move onto the next year of the course. Additionally, your results will be an indication of which areas you’ll want to work on to improve yourself as an artist. They can be useful for both the teachers and the students.

You should take your studies seriously, of course, but remember that your portfolio is just as important. You’re studying to become a professional artist, after all.

Taking Risks to Become a Better Artist

In school, you’ll learn, practise, fail, and try again. Make the most of your time in education to try out new drawing techniques and step outside of your comfort zone.

Is your pencil work really good?

Have a go at using different media! Once you’re busy working as an artist, you mightn’t have the time for this experimentation.

Don’t worry too much about getting bad results if you know you’re experimenting with something and trying to get better at it. This is the case when it comes to studying art. You’re studying art to become a better artist, after all, not just to get good grades.

Ways To Escape Your Comfort Zone When It Comes To Your Creative Skills

  • Work bacwards: jot down mindmap of what comfortable with. Write the opposite and research it and create
  • Identify what's holding you back
  • Mingle with artists - chatrooms, social media, meet with local art students
  • Ask your teacher what they think you could apply yourself to that is different

Network at Art School

It doesn’t matter which degree you’ve chosen, university is a great time to start building your professional network. Your classmates are also looking to become professionals and they may even be your future colleagues. This is your time to great lasting friendships and professional relationships with your fellow students and your lecturers.

How do you break into the art world?
Use the most of your time at art school to make lasting connections. (Source: LubosHouska)

Furthermore, art schools often ask you to do group projects or individual projects that require a lot of work outside of class. Instead of staying locked up in your room, you should work together and stay motivated.

At the end of your studies, your new friends will be important if you become a freelancer or decide to work on your own. Getting out and seeing people is important for your wellbeing and inspiration.

Make Sure You Relax

It can be stressful studying an art degree. The admissions procedure is stressful and once you’re on the course, it only gets more stressful. You’re expected to do a lot of work and you’ll probably be spending a few late nights working on your projects.

However, if you keep working at this rate, you’ll go mad. Your brain needs to relax to remain creative and productive. You also need to take regular breaks and find a good rhythm for your body and mind. Don’t work relentlessly on your projects. Go out with friends, spend weekends with your family, etc.

Tips for Destressing during your Studies

Some people find creativity soothing, yet if you are spending day after day working on art portfolios and stressing about which course is right for you or if your final project is good enough then you may just need a little break from art. However, that is easier said than done when you are at art school five days a week! If you think you and your art project need a few days or hours apart, then why not consider doing the following to reset and recharge and get your creative juices flowing again:

  • Use nature as an escape: instead of being cooped up indoors with little more to think about than your art work, get out and about and stand side by side with nature. It could well make you rethink your project or get you back on track where you might have side-tracked a little and lost sight of the end goal.
  • Be influenced by new things: someone once said the best way to introduce yourself to new things is to write down keywords that most correspond with what you like to do and your comfort zone, and then to write the opposite next to each one and force yourself to either research or psychically tackle these strange areas. It doesn't have to be massively specific or correct, for example, you could write down - Small > BIG - and make yourself work on a larger scale for your next experiment. Getting away from the norm can really make you appreciate your 'ordinary', renew your confidence and improve your overall happiness. If not, it could help you find a new activity to do to take your mind off of your everyday work!
  • Spend time with friends and family: It goes without saying that a bit of a timeout with your friends or sitting down for a meal with your family with NO plans to pick up your project later can do your mindspace wonders. Having fun with loved ones helps you to release tension and absorb all that positive energy so be sure to take time for yourself at regular intervals during your course.

Explore Your Artistic Sense

Drawing isn’t just technique! Some students are lucky because they are gifted in terms of drawing and painting technique. Rough perspective, live models, sketches, colouring, design, etc. But you can improve your technique. A lot of students aren’t masters of every technique when they start at art school. That’s why they’re at school, after all.

How do you improve as an artist?
Make sure that you experiment as an artist. (Source: AlexanderStein)

You can’t start an art career just with technique, though. You also need to have an artistic sense which is why art schools also try to cultivate an artistic culture by studying art history. Without inspiration, an artist is nothing so don’t avoid the theory and culture on your programme.

Develop Your Artistic Curiosity

As you’ll have understood, there’s a lot of work to be done at art school. In addition to all the work you have to do, students are encouraged to attend art exhibitions. Go to your local museum of art regularly, study the history of art, and even expand your understanding of art by broadening your areas of study!

You can develop your artistic curiosity by reading novels, biographies, art magazines, and watching films, too. You should go beyond what you’re asked to do and regularly try to step outside your comfort zone. You can organise nights out with your friends to cultural events. Contemporary art, art and design, graphic design, performing arts, etc., there are tonnes of things to inspire you. Get out there and enjoy the world of art!

You could also learn more with private tutorials from one of the many talented tutors on Superprof! There are three main types of tutorials available.

Face-to-face tutorials are taught with one student and one tutor and are often the most cost-effective type of tutorials since every minute in the lesson is spent focusing on you as the student.

Online tutorials are similar to the face-to-face tutorials but take place either on a call or via webcam. Online tutorials are usually cheaper than face-to-face tutorials since the tutor has fewer outgoings to worry about.

Finally, group tutorials are classes with one teacher or tutor and multiple students. These tend to be the cheapest per student per hour since the cost of hiring the tutor is split amongst all the students attending the tutorials.

Consider Entering Competitions to keep your Passion Alive and Gain Confidence

Being at art school can be quite tough, especially when you spend your days watching others around expressing their creativity in totally different ways - it's bound to make you question your own ability. Moreover, if you are a watercolour artist, for example, then seeing your creations stand up against someone who has put together a towering sculpture can make you feel a tad inferior. The truth is, though, that everybody's pieces speak in their own way.

So, how can you make yourself feel a bit better when you are doubting yourself? Why not try entering a competition!? Even if you don't win, it' a great focus aside of your course and can put you in great stead when trying to compete with others beyond education!

Below are just a few examples of competitions open to students like you this year. (And, remember, there's more where this came from!)

Visual Art Open

A not for profit event open to all artists and age groups with a prize fund of £5,000 and the opportunity to exhibit at Chester Arts Fair 2020.

Deadline: 10th December 2019 open for entry!
Shortlist: 31st March 2020
Prizes:
First Prize: £1,000 (plus mentoring package & Chester Arts Fair stand worth £1,000)
Category Winners: £250 (Painting/Mixed Media/Printmaking, Illustration/Drawing, Sculpture, Photography/Digital Art, Young Artist 16-24, Children’s Award 15 and under)
Exhibition: Chester arts Fair, Chester (November 2020)
Medium: Drawing, printing, painting, photography, digital art, sculpture and video
Eligibility: UK & International artists (over 18)
Entry Fee: £15 per work(5 works maximum, £10 per work for under 24s)
Website: visualartopen.com

RWS Contemporary Watercolour Prize

An annual competition that encourages ‘innovation and experimentation in all water-based media’ offering various cash prizes and art materials.

Deadline: January 13th 2020 open for entry!
Shortlist: 23rd January
Prizes:
First Prize: £1000
RWS Award: £250
New Graduate Award: £250
Exhibition: Bankside Gallery, London (March 2020)
Medium: Water based media
Eligibility: UK & International artists
Entry Fee: To be announced
Website: royalwatercoloursociety.co.uk

Royal Society Of Portrait Painters Award

"An annual competition that encourages ‘new and traditional artistic models and perspectives in portraiture’ offering various cash prizes and art materials."

Deadline: January 17th 2020 opens 4th November
Shortlist: 24th January
Prizes:
Ondaatje Prize: £10,000 (most distinguished portrait in exhibition)
The de Laszlo Foundation Award: : £3000 (best portrait by artist 35 and under)
Prince of Wales Award: £2000 (for portrait drawing)
RP Prize: £2000 (for best small portrait 15″ x 12″ max)
Burke’s Peerage Foundation Award: £2000 (classically inspired portraiture)
Contemporary Arts Trust Award: £1000 (most deserving artist)
Smallwood Architects Prize: £1000 (architectural or interior features play important part)
Exhibition: Mall Galleries, London (May 2020)
Medium: Paintings, drawings and original prints (excluding sculpture and photography)
Eligibility: UK & International artists (over 18)
Entry Fee: £18 per work, £12 if under 35 (max 3)
Website: mallgalleries.org.uk

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Joseph

Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.