“Every artist was first an amateur” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you're interested in going to university to study art, you're going to have to be interested in studying art during your GCSEs, getting good GCSE results, finishing secondary education, moving onto further education, and studying art at A Level, for example.
Whether you're interested in art design, printmaking, studio art, ceramics, or other areas of study, you'll probably want to study art in school before going to university to continue your studies.
In this article, we're going to look at how art is studied in secondary schools, how you can study art and design as one of your GCSE subjects, studying art as an A Level, and, ultimately, getting an arts education.
Art and Design in Secondary School
Learning to draw is a process that starts at nursery when children learn to express themselves with coloured pencils, crayons, felt tips, etc. This is when they'll start to learn the basics of art through shapes, colour mixing, and the necessary motor skills to manipulate pens and pencils on paper.
This learning continues throughout their time at school and they'll be introduced to famous artists in their lessons, learn more about the different media, and be given the opportunity to practise drawing people, landscapes, and sculpting objects.
Art and design are obligatory from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4 and once a student reaches their GCSEs, they should have a good understanding of various art techniques. At that point, they'll no longer be required to study art.
English (English Literature and English Language or a single English GCSE), Maths, and Science (Combined Science or Physics, Chemistry, and Biology) all remain obligatory GCSE subjects but the arts, design and technology, humanities, and modern foreign languages all need to be optional choices at GCSE. This is the first moment where pupils will be required to choose art as a subject and this may mean having to drop another subject they like.
Art and Design as an Optional Subject
From Year 10, students can choose to do Art and Design as a GCSE. Keep in mind that at this level, students are still learning techniques and not how to survive as an artist in later life. They’re learning artistic skills and more about the world of art. Students will learn about the history of art, the greats, current artists, and look at different pieces and analyse them.
They’ll also cover architecture, painting, sculpture, etc. and have the opportunity to create their own works of art. Artists need to apply their knowledge of art and apply it to create new things by working on shape and form, ideas, technique, etc.
Studying Art and Design at GCSE
If you're interested in visual arts at school, you'll have to study art at GCSE and hope your school has a good art department. Art education in the UK is dwindling as the focus shifts away from art education, art schools, and the liberal arts in general and towards business and the sciences.
That said, if you're interested in attending a school of art, there are plenty of good art schools in the UK where you can get a degree in art and most of them require an A Level or BTEC in Art, which means you'll need a GCSE or equivalent in art first.
If you're not in the UK, you might study IGCSE Art and Design. These are examinations based on the GCSE and considered to be the equivalent of them.
These are operated by University of Cambridge International Examinations and the Edexcel and OxfordAQA exam boards. The exam board doesn't matter as all of them are considered equals when it comes to the admissions procedures. Much like the GCSEs, if you get an IGCSE, you can move onto A Levels or an international baccalaureate if you have good GCSE grades.
Studying Art and Design at A Level
If your GCSE exam results are good, you can move onto an A Level (advanced level) in art to help you get into art universities. Unsurprisingly, the entry requirements for most art and design degrees include some kind of further education in art, including A Level Art.
An A Level art course is designed to help you learn the necessary creative and technical skills to improve as an artist. Additionally, you'll also learn about the history of art so that you can better understand art in context. During your A Level, you'll also be regularly contributing to your portfolio, something you'll be working on as an artist throughout your entire career and you'll be given the opportunity to specialise in a particular field.
A Levels in art usually involve both coursework and exams. However, unlike exams in other subjects that last a few hours, in art courses, they can last 15 hours. Of course, this isn't all in one session but rather across several days.
Other Further Education Art Courses
The international baccalaureate diploma in visual arts is also accepted by universities. This is, as the name would suggest, an international qualification.
BTEC Foundation Diploma in Art and Design
A Levels aren’t the only way to study art. Students can study a BTEC National Diploma in art, for example. The BTEC is a level 3 qualification (the same as the A Levels) which means it counts for your university application. In fact, there's only one university in the UK that doesn't accept any BTECs.
The main difference between the BTEC Foundation Diploma in Art and Design and an art A Level is that it'll probably be the only thing on your timetable as it's the equivalent of 3 A Levels. If you opt to study A Levels, you'll probably study between 2 and 3 other subjects alongside it. Of course, this means that it's much more work than your coursework for GCSE art was! Additionally, BTECs are higher-level courses so they'll be more work than a single GCSE level course.
Find out more about surviving art school.
Why Study Art and Design in Secondary School?
Choosing to study art in secondary school is a good idea for those who want to pursue a career in the arts. While some may say that you can't teach art, you can learn about the theory behind art as well as techniques with graphite, gouache, charcoal, pastel, watercolours, etc. You'll be given opportunities to work with different materials that you mightn't be able to afford on your own.
Additionally, having a better understanding of the history of art is useful for understanding art in context, what works, what doesn't, and serve as inspiration for what you could do in your next project.
You can also study art academically rather than creating your own pieces. Be it sculpture, modelling, art history, there are plenty of options for those who’ve studied art at secondary school or college. Most importantly, studying art and design at secondary school, sixth form, or college is the best way to get onto the best art and design degrees at university.
While you can teach yourself how to become a designer, illustrator, concept artist, or art historian, formal education doesn’t hurt.
You could also learn more with private tutorials from one of the many talented tutors on Superprof! The main types of tutorials are face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials. Each type of tutorial comes with its pros and cons in terms of learning and cost-effectiveness. What's right for one student may not be right for another so take your time to find the right kind of tutor and tutoring.
Face-to-face tutorials are taught with one student and one tutor and they are usually the most cost-effective type since every minute in the lesson is spent focusing on you as the student. Additionally, the tutor will also spend time outside of the lessons finding resources and planning the time they'll spend with you.
Online tutorials are similar to the face-to-face tutorials but take place either on a call or via webcam. Since the tutor won't have the travel costs to worry about and can fit more students into their schedule as a result, online tutorials are usually cheaper than face-to-face tutorials.
Finally, group tutorials are classes with one teacher or tutor and multiple students. However, with group tutorials, you and a group of friends could get in touch with a private tutor to plan lessons that you'll all attend together. Thanks to the students sharing the cost of the tutor's time, these tutorials tend to be the cheapest per student per hour.