Student Resource

Art School Debate

Battling about where to study art or whether it's a good idea? Get a second opinion from those in the know...

Meschac Gaba, ‘Library From Museum of Contemporary African Art’ 1997–2002
Meschac Gaba
Library From Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997–2002
Promised gift of the artist and acquired with funds provided by the Acquisitions Fund for African Art supported by Guaranty Trust Bank plc 2013
© Meschac Gaba

We asked art and design students, lecturers, and course leaders for their opinions about some big questions in our art school debate:

Is it possible to get into art and design without a degree?

‘Increasingly I think it’s vital that you have a degree because the art world is so competitive, but also because it gives you a rare and privileged chance to spend all of your time learning, discussing and making art.’
Billie Rae Vinson, 22, Year 3 BA Fine Art Sculpture Cardiff School of Art and Design

‘Yes – it’s all about the work you do /show – a degree gives you the time and help to develop it and teaches you working methods, critical reflection, context etc. but people can be successful without. You won’t get anywhere without hard work and effort.’
Olwen Moseley, Principal Lecturer Graphic Communication Cardiff School of Art & Design, UWIC

‘At university I had access to materials, facilities and advice from technicians. We were also given a professional development module where we had to research our next steps, putting together a mock portfolio and proposals. Some people can get this kind of development outside a University context, and I understand the academic route is not for everyone. I know plenty of people who are self taught practicing artists/illustrators etc but they knew their niche market, knew how to present themselves as a business and usually had mentorship from already established artists.’
Rachel Parry, 24, BA Fine Art, Northumbria University

Art school vs. university?

‘I believe it’s better to go to an art college, as you are with like minded people who understand why you are studying and the art school is more concentrated in what it does. Art schools are the ones which generally have better respect within the art industry.’
Ellen Turnill, 19, Year 1 BA Visual Communication Glasgow School of Art

‘I’m not sure. I go to an art college that is also a university. Product Design is an odd one; it depends if you want to be a concept designer or an engineer. I veer more towards the arty spectrum, and UWIC lets me do that, but others prefer technical aspects and that’s also encouraged.
Oliver Palmer, 21, Year 3 BA Product Design, Cardiff School of Art and Design, UWIC

‘I am glad I attended a university over an art-institution. The variety of people I have met in halls means you get brought down to earth after being in class all day with other students of your subject.’
Alex Holubowicz, 20, Year 2, BA Typography and Graphic Communication, University of Reading

Is art and design a reliable career option?

‘Often we undersell the Creative Industries. I saw a talk by Wayne Hemmingway six months ago where he said the Creative Industries were the second biggest wealth income generator next to the service industries. So there are jobs out there, having said that you don’t necessarily walk into a job.’
Ian Thompson Programme Manager, Young Design Programme

‘The balance between earning money and making your own work is difficult. I think it is a risk, but if you are passionate about it and dedicated (with some handy contacts) then it is possible.’
Nicola Carey, 22, BA Photography, University College Falmouth

‘It depends. If you look at your options realistically you may not be able to pursue the exact career you want to. However I think art and design as a whole offer you thousands of career options to choose from. Art and design is also the largest and fastest growing career sector in the UK today.’
Emma Helena Harnett, 20, BA Fine Art, Middlesex University

Is the reputation of the institution important?

‘My advice would be to not judge universities on their reputation alone. Make sure you visit them on open days and think realistically about distance from home and if the facilities are worth the money you are paying.’
Emma Allie, 20, Year 2 Contemporary Textiles Practice, Cardiff School of Art and Design

‘It’s not about telling someone which institution/course is better but matching the right course to the individual. A tutor has to take the person into consideration. The student might be a hard-worker, but better suited to a college with a more supportive studio ethos. We’ve had people go to respected art schools who quit in the first term because it’s not the right context for them.’
Nick Pride, Head of Foundation Studies in Art and Design, University of Gloucestershire

‘It’s the whole cool by association deal, if you attend a well respected institution, prestige and hierarchy comes with it. Even though you may not be as talented as others from a not so established institution, a certain level of standard is expected of you and will be associated with you.’
Diana Agunbiade-kolawole, 19, BA Photography, Kingston University

Is it best to study in a big city?

‘I suppose I would say just make the most of your adventure and keep it varied. The thing about going to a big city is there will always be something happening to stimulate and bring questions to the surface. However not all the stimulation has to come from galleries – someone might find inspiration from standing in a cave or an abandoned hospital – all experiences are good and help generate creativity.’
Rachel Parry, 24, BA Fine Art, Northumbria University

‘Studying in London obviously has its advantages: Exposure to galleries and opportunities perhaps etc but being based in Nottingham I found that I have been able to graduate and sustain a working practice in the city and the university are still very supportive and I don’t know whether I would have had the same experiences in somewhere like London.’
Liam Aitkin, 23, Graduate BA Fine Art, Nottingham Trent University

‘I chose to study outside London because I wanted a better student social scene, however, now that I want to work in London, I realise it would have been easier if I already knew my way around and had connections in the area. Also London is a fast moving and exciting place and you defiantly need to have the right personality to be there but the opportunities, I believe, exceed those anywhere else.’
Billie Rae Vinson, 22 Year 3 BA Fine Art Sculpture, Cardiff School of Art and Design

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