Are you thinking of studying Fine Art?

Image shows an art gallery.
There are many different types of Art degree and other Art qualifications. For this study guide series, we’ve decided to focus on just one: Fine Art.
This is arguably the study of Art in its purest form, focusing on pure creativity rather than being subject to other constraints, as in, say, Illustration, Graphic Design or Animation. While Fine Art graduates can have a hard time of getting established in a career, particularly one related to their studies, evidence does suggest that pursuing this particular dream usually leads to greater happiness in later life.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Image shows a photographer on a beach.
Photography is one thing you may learn doing Fine Art.

The range of things that can be studied under the aegis of Fine Art is very broad. Your course might cover painting, drawing, animation, printmaking, conceptual art, textiles, multimedia art, design, dance, theatre, theory of art, mosaics, photography, film-making, smithing, sculpture, electronic media, costume design, calligraphy, folk art and probably a few other disciplines as well. However, there are some areas that are likely to feature in every Fine Art degree beyond the vast number of voluntary options available to you.


Honing your drawing skills, particularly drawing from observation rather than photographs, is an important part of almost all Fine Art degrees. It’s a skill that you should demonstrate in your portfolio when you apply – which doesn’t need to be in the form of finished work, but can simply be sketchbook drawings that contribute towards the finished piece – and that you will have plenty of opportunity to perfect over the course of your degree.

Theory of Art

While most of your degree will focus on the practice of art rather than the theory, you can expect that there will be some discussion of art and art history.

Commercial and careers advice

Part of your course is likely to be concerned not just with producing art, but also with selling it. You’ll learn a little about business and entrepreneurship, and above all you’ll learn how to compile a truly impressive portfolio.

What do I need for a Fine Art degree?

Image shows the Louvre at dusk.
Very few schools offer History of Art, so it’s not compulsory.

The only compulsory A-level is Art itself. As far as your other A-levels go, you might want to consider History of Art, if your school offers it. History may be useful, as might English Literature – or, in terms of learning practical skills, you may want to take Maths or Chemistry.
The most important thing, though, is to produce the best portfolio you possibly can in order to support your application. Some expert advice on what should be included in your portfolio can be found here.
The majority of Fine Art degrees will require you to have first taken a Foundation course. You might see this as an extra, potentially unnecessary year, but it will be invaluable in terms of honing your skills, allowing you to come to university ready to focus fully on your creative aims, rather than still being stuck on practising the basics.

What skills will I acquire?

Image shows someone welding.
You might pick up some surprising skills.

Skills gained by Fine Art students fall into two categories: the practical and the transferable. You will gain a huge variety of practical skills, which could be anything from printmaking to welding. These technical skills may prove more useful than you realise.
Regarding transferable skills, you will learn to manage your time and motivate yourself even beyond the extent that is conferred by most degrees. You will pick up research skills, and learn how to take constructive criticism well. You will gain organisational skills and learn to work to a deadline.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

Fine Art degrees are often included in study abroad programmes, and students may feel that they benefit from getting an international perspective. However, beyond that, travel is not a standard part of a Fine Art degree.

What careers are possible with a Fine Art degree?

Image shows a WordPress page.
Web design is a popular career for Fine Art graduates.

The great disadvantage of a Fine Art degree is in graduate employability. Less than two-thirds of Fine Art graduates are employed within six months of graduation, and the statistics on the employment that they then find are even more depressing: only around a quarter of graduates are employed in fields relating to art, design and media, which is fewer than are employed in retail or bar work. Employment within the art sector is usually short-term, in the form of commissions or residencies, rather than anything that can be relied upon in the long term. The majority of people who make a living from art have a secondary job as well in order to keep the bills paid.
Of those who are employed in careers relating to art, Fine Art graduates are making their living as artists, photographers, graphic designers, arts officers and consultants and web designers. Arts administration is a popular field, but is highly competitive. A significant number of Fine Art graduates go into teaching. Art therapy is also an option.

Related degrees

If you’re thinking of studying Fine Art, here are some options you might want to consider as well:

  • History of Art – if you are more interested in the theory and study of art than producing it yourself.
  • Other types of Art degree – for instance, Graphic Design or Illustration, which may also make you more immediately employable.
  • Creative Writing – if you are interested in expressing your creativity through a different medium than Art.

A final thought on Fine Art

While the statistics on graduate employment for Fine Art are quite off-putting – you are unlikely to be breaking the tradition of the struggling artist in the garret unless you are both very talented and very lucky – it remains a degree that has a great deal going for it. There is much to be gained from studying Fine Art at university, both in terms of skills and personal satisfaction; in few other situations do you get to give quite such free reign to your creativity, with highly talented people around you to encourage and assist you in expressing yourself.

Image credits: banner; photographer; Louvre; welding; WordPress.