Are you passionate about studying art at university? Interested in learning more about the ‘great masters’, or comparing artistic movements from different historic periods and cultures? Or perhaps you’re a budding artist yourself, keen to develop your own skills and artistic vision under the guidance of expert teachers. Roughly speaking, this sums up the two main types of art degree available...
Types of art degrees
The majority of university art course fall within one of two main types of art degrees: History of Art (or Art History) and Fine Art (or Applied Art).
The first group of degrees, History of Art/Art History, seek to nurture students’ ability to understand and analyse artistic artefacts from different perspectives – cultural, historical, philosophical and so on.
The second group, Fine Art/Applied Art, focus on developing the students’ own artistic skills. Again, this usually involves cultivating students’ awareness and understanding of different artistic trends and techniques, but much more practical work is involved.
In addition to these two traditional pathways, a range of much younger art courses have also sprung up, in response to changes in society which mean new media and new types of artistic creativity in demand. Examples include degrees dedicated entirely to subjects such as photography, illustration, animation and computer or digital arts.
History of art degrees are among the more traditional and academically established arts courses offered by universities. Courses typically cover artworks from a range of different cultures and historical periods, training students to analyse artefacts in terms of their relationship to artistic movements, social context and historic importance. This could mean ‘artworks’ in the most traditional sense – paintings on display in a gallery – but also a much broader approach to what constitutes art, from architecture to cartoons.
History of art students may choose to specialize in a particular region and/or historical period, or may pursue an interest in a particular aspect of art’s relationship to society – perhaps looking at the relationship between art and philosophy, or art and politics, for example.
Fine art degrees
Where history of art courses are about analysing artworks, fine art degrees are about creating them. Fine art programs typically combine a mixture of theoretical and practical requirements to nurture students in developing their own artistic work. Usually fine art students specialize in a particular medium, such as painting, sculpture, photography, film, animation, illustration, print-making or ceramics.
In addition, it’s possible to find entire degree courses specializing in each of the media mentioned above – and many more besides. For instance, you could take a degree specializing in comic art, or in community arts practice. It’s also possible to choose an art degree which focuses on art in a particular region or culture – such as Asian art or European art.
Then, of course, there’s the whole related field of design, encompassing subjects such as fashion, textile design, graphic design, interior design, advertising design and product design.
Careers for arts graduates
As with most arts and humanities subjects, careers for arts graduates are wide and varied. Not all graduates of arts degrees go on to roles that are obviously related to what they’ve studied, instead entering one of the many graduate jobs that are open to students from multiple academic backgrounds.
However, for those determined to pursue an arts career, there are lots of options. Those with an art history background may pursue careers within arts curation, valuation, management and conservation. Employers could include museums, art galleries and collections, and auction houses.
Those who enjoy one-on-one contact with people may consider roles within art education, either within schools or working for organizations such as museums or community arts projects. Other common paths include events organization, administration, research and journalism.
Many of these career paths are also popular among fine arts graduates – who also, of course, will probably be keen to find roles in which they can practice their own artistic skills. While some will manage to carve out a career as a freelance artist, others find different ways to put their creativity to use, within industries such as advertising, publishing and media, fashion, web design or interior design.
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