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Art Education

By: Mike Watson - Updated: 21 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Arts Education A-level Gcse Foundation

If you have a genuine interest in the arts, it is possible to further develop your awareness of Fine Art by pursuing an arts education. This can involve joining a local arts class where you may learn life drawing, still life, or other practical skills, which is something your local library can advise on. Alternatively it can involve attending college/s for a period of time in order to gain sustained practical and theoretical knowledge of the arts.

The Formal Arts Education System

In the U.K. this traditionally involves undergoing the GCSE and A-Level system, then undertaking an Arts Foundation course, which will enable you to try out various different processes and disciplines (such as sculpture, computer graphics, painting, printmaking, and so on) before deciding which Bachelors degree you would like to apply to. This then involves making applications to a number of institutions who may then ask you for interview, where they will examine a portfolio of your works.

However, the system is not as set in stone as this, and it is possible to apply directly to an institution with a supporting statement and a portfolio of artworks at any level (for example, you could enter into the system at foundation level, or even Bachelor of Arts level, providing you can show evidence of skill and commitment). This is especially true for mature students, which the government and many colleges/universities are keen to attract).

Other routes into further arts education include pursuing a diploma in arts from the age of 16, which will equip you to apply to an arts college for degree study in much the same way as the A-Level/Foundation route will.

Considering Your Options

As well as a traditional formal arts education there are many different approaches to developing your knowledge and skills of art. Many people are reticent to pursue a formal arts education, believing that it will infringe upon their natural capabilities, whilst forcing them to conform to a rigid institutional system of values. Whilst this may or may not be true, there is a lot to be said for simply obtaining an arts studio where other artists work and developing alongside them, without worrying about grades and qualifications etc.

What the arts education system can offer you is a stable base of support from which to begin your career, and – often – the support of your college, and classmates, as you continue on to develop an arts career (should you wish to).

Deciding where to study will really be a matter of personal choice, and whilst some colleges have a better reputation than others, reputations change with time. The only way to really know if a college is right for you is to visit it, taking time to speak to both the tutors and the students.

Art History and Theory

All arts courses have a strong theoretical element these days, especially at BA and Postgraduate level. Though this is not to everyone’s tastes, it can be very useful as a means of helping to contextualise your own artwork.

The theoretical element of both foundation courses and BA art courses often take the form of lectures, followed by essays to be completed once a term (or semester, as it is now often called), and – in the case of a BA - a final ‘Dissertation’ of 5,000 to 10,000 words, depending on course requirements.

Students wishing to pursue a purely theoretical degree may wish to pursue the study of Art History at the Courtauld Institute (which specialises solely in Art History) or on a specialised course elsewhere.

Practicalities of Studying

There are few bursaries available to financially aid study beyond school level and many students sustain themselves through part-time and holiday work, combined with low interest student loans and bank overdrafts.

On top of the cost of living there are tuition fees to consider, which are payable by all except those on a low income, and Scottish born students studying in Scotland, who must in any case pay a fee on completion of their course.

There are hardship funds available each term from the welfare department of your college. This is a fixed sum allocated to each college every term, and then reallocated to the most financially hard up students – although there is generally very little to go around.

Despite financial difficulties, there are many students who manage to get by every year, buoyed partly by the camaraderie offered by other students who find themselves in the same position and, in any case, the eventual benefits may outstrip the downsides.

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