University subject profile: art

Art graduates can be found in roles such as art directors, arts administrators or art therapist.

Art graduates can be found in roles such as art directors, arts administrators or art therapist. Photograph: baranozdemir/Getty Images

What you’ll learn

Emin, Hirst and Picasso all took an art course before becoming world-famous artists. But the scope of art degrees has widened dramatically over the years, and can include anything from fine art and drawing to sculpture, printmaking and calligraphy. It’s an exciting field of study, in which you can develop your passions in a practical, creative way.

Most university degree courses are taught by current or former artists, curators and academic researchers, which means you should get expert tuition and a good insight into life after study.

Some universities will require a foundation course in art and design, or a BTec national diploma (or equivalent). The downside of a foundation course is that it will cost money, but the plus side is you will have a portfolio of up-to-date work, and a good idea about whether a three- or four-year degree spent crouched behind an easel is really for you. It will certainly help you decide which area of art you wish to pursue.

How you’ll learn

Your chosen university should have a suite of specialist equipment and workshops, and a fair chunk of your course will probably be spent using it. This is likely to include some group work, where you’ll develop your negotiation and communication skills.

As well as completing practical work, you’ll study the theory behind art, mostly through seminars and lectures. This may involve learning about different technologies and materials, artistic movements, and the business of art. As part of your studies, you’ll be expected to write analytically about art. You may also be asked to give presentations to your classmates.

You certainly won’t spend all of your time on campus though – expect trips to see exhibitions and guest lecturers. Depending on your course, you may opt to spend a semester or two studying art abroad, where you could develop your language skills. Some universities will require you to take a work placement as part of your course – invaluable experience for developing contacts and building your CV.

One thing to be aware of is that the price of materials and fieldwork trips can be hard to predict on an art degree. Ask prospective universities what’s included to avoid costly surprises.

What job can I get?

The creative industries are notoriously competitive, so you will need plenty of grit and perseverance if you plan to pursue a career as a freelance artist. But there are lots of options out there.

Art graduates can be found in roles such as art directors, arts administrators or art therapists, as well as working in advertising, art galleries and museums, theatre, film and crafts. But art and design graduates are no longer tied to just one sector in the employment market – some, for example, work for engineering or tech companies, helping to make products more accessible for users.