What A-Levels do you need?
A solid portfolio of work is often more important than your A-level grades when it comes to art degrees. Obviously exact requirements vary depending on the university (Oxford want three As for their Fine Art BA, unsurprisingly, and they strongly recommend applicants have an art A-level and take a foundation course), but many unis will consider you based on the merit of your previous work.
What are your study options?
Most courses will be three years in length, although some unis offer four year courses that give students both a BA and a Master’s qualification.
Many art courses will have a predominantly practical focus and will teach you to use a wide range of artistic mediums such as sculpting, painting and even electronics. You’ll also acquire an overview of art history and how different artists used their work to reflect the social and cultural attitudes of the times in which they were produced.
While you’ll be expected to attend lectures as part of your degree, you’ll also need to carry out your own work and independent research in your spare time (as the course itself will likely have less contact hours than some subjects). Assessment will vary depending on the nature of your course, but most practical-based art degrees will assess you on the strength of your portfolio.
Why study Art & Design?
Art is a fascinating subject to study – not only from a creative perspective but also from a historical one. As part of your course you will learn a range of practical skills that will allow you to develop your own artistic style and gain an understanding of different approaches towards art, from surrealism to the aesthetic movement.
If you’re a creative person, studying a degree in art will not only put you in touch with experts, but also with other like-minded students. This will give you a great opportunity to network and chat to those who share your enthusiasm and interest for the subject.
After your degree...
Upon graduation there are a wide range of opportunities for those who have an in-depth knowledge of the arts sector. Many students in this particular field will find work as critics, curators or even in arts administration, PR and marketing roles.
However, the majority of art and design students enter their undergraduate programmes with the hope of finding work as artists and designers. While some students do change their mind, many students attempt to find work as artistic practitioners, showcasing their work in galleries and event spaces. Similarly, another popular option for students is to set up their own business selling their work online or on a commission basis. This is a particularly popular option among graduates with day jobs who opt to work freelance in order to subsidise their incomes (a good approach – at least to start with – as finding work as a full time artist is not easy).
Of course, there are a lot of jobs within the arts sector that may require specialist training at postgraduate level. If you’re looking to teach art in a school environment, you may wish to study on a PGCE course, or even a Master’s – and then a PhD – if you’re looking to teach at university level. Similarly, due to the nature of the arts sector, there are a number of postgraduate courses that train students to become experts in the restoration and preservation of artwork.
Q & A with a Graphic Design student
Julia Wytrazek is a final year BA Graphic Design student at the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design (often known as the Cass), London.
What are you most enjoying about your course?
The amount of choice we get in regards to what we want to do within the course. Instead of all graphic design students being lumped into one group all doing the same projects, starting from year two we are divided into six studios. Each studio works under a different tutor and doing completely different projects. This means that whether your leanings are towards photography, typography, storyboarding, computer-based graphics, or whatever it is your heart desires, you can pick a studio that focuses on your preferred branch of graphic design and develop the relevant skills. There is also quite a lot of collaboration between graphic designers and other visual communications courses, so you can get a better feeling of what other disciplines are about. Quite a lot of graphic designers end up signing up for more illustration based studios, and vice versa. If you're not exactly sure what you want to do within the creative field, you have plenty of opportunities on the course to find out.
What key modules did you study in your first year?
Visual Research & Awareness dealt with the basis of design, and the creative process behind it. Many people going into graphic design tend to just make things visually pleasing without ever considering the intellectual property behind their designs. This module explained what ‘good design’ is and got us into the habit of carefully considering every creative choice we make, however minute. From then on, sketchbooks showing project development are expected alongside every assignment!
Design for Information, Design for Persuasion, and Design for Change were three separate modules with similar themes; they showed us how to approach and work on client briefs. You should be able to get a really good, strong portfolio piece out of each of these modules if you work hard enough, which is something you'll be really grateful for by year three, when you're struggling to put a professional portfolio together.
Understanding Art, Media, and Design was the essay writing module. Like it or not, in year three you'll be writing your dissertation, and if you want to be able to tackle 8000+ words on one topic coherently, you need practice. This module continues through all three years under different names, but it's pretty much all the same thing, designed to exercise your critical thinking. Despite what many people seem to think going into uni, graphic design is roughly 80% thinking, 20% doing. We had a lot of dropouts after the first year because of that. And to be fair, critical thinking isn't just a useful graphic design skill, it's a useful life skill.
What are you hoping to do after you graduate?
I'd quite like to get a job, if that's not asking too much! The truth is, it's rough for recent graduates, so you’ve got to take that into account going into arts and design. The amount of creatives willing to work for free is really hurting the market. But my dream job would be making costume props for theatre and TV productions. Not exactly graphic designer-y, I know. Lucky for me, the final major project on the Graphic Design course is such an open brief that I had no trouble making mine relevant to my dream job and potentially a really good portfolio piece, which is where the freedom of choice at the Cass really comes in handy.
How has the course helped you achieve your ambitions so far?
The freedom of choice really allowed me to expand my interests, but what I found the most helpful was that the Cass really wants its students to be able to navigate the creative industry. We've had dozens of talks from industry professionals telling us how they broke into the business, CV writing workshops, guides for handling and pricing freelance jobs, mock clients we worked for, and real clients in our (optional) work placement module. I think that's ultimately what uni is for, to equip you with the tools you need to achieve your ambitions, and it's up to you to use them effectively. I'm really happy with the Cass in that regard. I'm graduating in less than two months and I feel confident and ready for what awaits me once I start looking for jobs.