Art is one of the most subjective concepts in the world and because its beauty is seen through the eyes of its beholder, its definition is not exactly an easy one to pin down!

When it comes to fine arts, for instance, the definition is simply ‘the production of a beautiful object.’

To really unpack the meaning behind this definition (which is only a start), we could examine three popular categories of art: performing arts, literature, and visual arts. Of course, there is a much crossing over when it comes to these three disciplines and all three could be major or minor subjects when it comes to obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Bachelor of Arts Degrees and Programmes in South Africa

South Africans have a very high appreciation of creativity and because of the country’s rich and unique cultural diversity, this is expressed wonderfully through the arts.

Not dissimilar to other countries, the most popular art degree available through any of South Africa’s universities is a Bachelor of Fine Arts or Masters of Fine Arts. These courses offer a diverse range of subjects enabling graduates to become anything from art teachers to ceramists and everything in between.

Fine Arts Degrees

Being a scholar in fine arts, whether you are studying a Bachelor of Arts degree at university or at a private art school, you are bound to encounter movements and artists that will challenge your ideas and expand your thinking. The diversity of this is reflected in the programmes offered by a variety of art schools. Here’s a list of just the specialist fields that one could pursue with a design school qualification.

  • Art Design
  • Sculpture
  • Drawing and Painting
  • Printmaking
  • Studio arts
  • Digital Media
  • Architecture
  • Graphic Design
  • Art Direction
sculptor in studio
A Fine Arts degree will allow to major in courses ranging from sculpture to digital media. | Source: Unsplash

Study Filmmaking at Art School

These days filmmaking is a serious career and offers many paths to becoming qualified.

Some of the most talented film directors have attended AFDA and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Motion Picture Medium, which is a three year, full-time course equivalent to an NQF7. These fully accredited, outcomes-based higher certificates or degrees in TV, performance, and film are available through the school’s Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Durban, or Botswana campuses.

The world of filmmaking, like everything else in the digital world, is evolving at a rapid speed, however major areas of learning that you can expect to cover if you study film through a reputable art school like AFDA would include production, image production, screen design, and post-production.

All of these major topics include subjects like screenwriting, producing, cinematography, costume design, sound design, and editing.

If you are interested in film and are at the career-decision-making stage of your life, you may want to look at other design schools that offer graphic design courses, photography, or computer animation. Even if you don’t end up going into the direction of the fine arts or attending a more generic design school, when it comes to your career choices, it is always wise to compare everything available before making a choice.

History of Art Degrees

In South Africa, there are several ways to receive a Bachelor of Arts that majors in History of Art. One of the most prestigious routes is to attend Michaelis Art School through the University of Cape Town. Wits University's School of Arts too, is also a very popular option for studying a fine arts degree which of course includes, History of Art.

Of course, you could also study the history of art through an art school or design school.

If you are interested in curating fine arts for museums, galleries, or art auction houses then a bachelor of arts in the history of art would be an excellent option.

Art history degrees also offer the opportunity to specialise in specific movements or periods of history. Many students who complete their Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts continue with a Masters in which they specialise in a certain genre, like baroque or pop art for instance.

Types of Design Subjects

Completing graphic design courses, or obtaining a degree from an art school or design school, can take on a slightly different process to regular fine arts degrees due to the interdisciplinary nature of subjects that include both physical composition and visual arts.

fashion designer creating a pattern
Fashion design courses will teach you business skills in addition to design techniques. | Source: Superprof

Here are some of the most popular courses that you would find in an art school or design school.

Fashion Design

One of the myths about fashion design degrees is that they only include the art of designing and producing clothing. Not only do comprehensive fashion design courses include business subjects, like purchasing, marketing, and sales, but from a design point of view, students can also study jewellery making, printmaking, and graphic design courses.

One of South Africa’s most sought-after institutions to study fashion design is at the Durban University of Technology (DUT).

Interior Design  

You may not realise it but everything from airports, hospitals, hotels, shopping malls, and corporate headquarters have been designed with a purpose in mind. If you are interested in interior design but would like a Bachelor of Arts degree, the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design, and Architecture is a good place to start.

Of course, you will find a design school in every one of South Africa’s major cities that offer interior design courses.


Due to the explosion of technology, including the incredible ability of the average smartphone when it comes to image quality, being able to take good photographs has become accessible to just about everyone.

However, photography includes the art of seeing and there is still a lot more to photography than a smartphone could ever accomplish. While photography often makes up one of the courses of a fine arts degree or is often a module in graphic design courses, it can be studied on its own.

When it comes to photography, your equipment investment can be substantial and will depend on the type of photography you intend to study. A fully accredited art school like Vega School in Cape Town is by far one of the best places to study photography and even obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Photography. Before investing in equipment, attend one of their orientation events or speak to the photography lecturer about which lenses and camera bodies are best for your photography journey.


Many people who specialise in animation are introduced to it as an art form via graphic design courses or filmmaking and multimedia studies. For those who are serious about getting a degree in animation, they could look up a Bachelor of Arts in Motion Design and Animation.

photographer taking photos of brightly coloured venue
With a photography qualification, you will learn to master your equipment and bring your subject to life. | Source: Unsplash

Graphic Design

If you are looking into graphic design courses in South Africa, you will find that there really is no shortage. This is an excellent career choice because graphic design affects just about every industry in some form or another. Bachelor of Arts degrees and National Diplomas are offered at almost all the major universities. But remember when it comes to anything in the fine arts arena to check a specialist art school like Vega or design school like AAA School of Advertising with offers campuses in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.


Courses in architecture are slightly different for other design school degrees. And while it’s slightly different in the way that architects are not actually considered to be fine artists, architecture has somehow preceded or followed every major art movement. In fact, this is why architecture is such an important contributor to a history of art syllabus.

An architecture degree students are awarded a BSc or Bachelor of Science depending on their area of specialisation. If this is your interest, you can look forward to studying topics like Sustainable Design, Industrial Design, and Urban Design. Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth has one of the most highly reputed Bachelor of Architectural Studies faculties in South Africa, but the selection process is competitive so we recommend finding out about their admission requirements well in advance and ensuring that your mathematics results, in particular, are above average. If necessary, with a subject like mathematics consider an extra lessons tutor.

Career Paths for Art Degree Graduates

The world of art is almost a universe of its own and the options for both talented and well-qualified artists are diverse. It is always an advantage to have a Batchelor of Arts or fine arts qualification, but if this has not been your journey, it does not mean you cannot find a successful and fulling career in the world of art.

Very often, those who have identified a talent for art later in life, start off with a private tutor to hone their skills until they are ready to begin charging for their work and be able to call themselves a professional. Once again, there could easily be a tutor near you to help you refine your painting, drawing, or sculpting talent. If you have not enrolled in a design school or taken the traditional bachelor of arts in fine arts degree or similar qualifications, this would be highly recommended next step to boost your confidence and get you on your way.

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.