If you are thinking about a career in the arts, you are at a very exciting, but challenging time in your career decision-making. From which course to enrol in, to which art school to attend, there is much to consider.

In South Africa, the options are wide-ranging when it comes to choosing a creative arts college. From universities to the independent art school, there are many programmes to hone your talent and qualify you for a career in the great big world of art.

Types of Art Programmes

Generally speaking, the subject of art is divided into three main categories: performing arts, visual arts and literature. Of course, these genres cross over spectacularly well when it comes to the production of a play, film or even a comic book.

However, there are some important generalisations we can make about two of these categories in particular.

Fine Arts

It’s actually not easy to find a thorough definition of the term fine arts, this is probably because it serves as an overall term that covers a great many art subjects.

Fine arts could include anything from art theory, like the history of art, to modern ceramics, sculpture and so much more.

While pursuing a career in art most certainly requires a certain aptitude or amount of artistic talent, for those who are academically ambitious, a Bachelor of Arts or Master’s Degree in fine arts can be incredibly rewarding.

girl painting
Pursuing a career in art will require some artistic talent or an aptitude for art history. | Source: Unsplash

One of the great benefits of a qualification in art, whether it’s from a creative arts college, university or design school, is that the syllabus is incredibly diverse. In fact, one of the advantages of enrolling in a creative arts college or university to study fine arts is that the foundational year covers a great many art subjects. This is an excellent way to discover which area within fine arts you would like to specialise.

Some of the subjects you can expect to find in a general fine arts course at an art school could include the following:

  • Printmaking
  • Art design
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Ceramics
  • Digital Media

If you already know which area of art you would like to specialise in, then you also have plenty of options. For instance, if you would like to study fashion design, you could enrol in the Durban University of Technology's course which is one of the most sought-after in the country.

So if you already have a creative arts college in mind, it is highly recommended that you download the course prospectus that you are interested in as soon as possible. You should also find out exactly what the entry requirements are for that particular art school or course so that you choose the right subjects and also get the matric results you need.

Film School

Finding a creative arts college that specialises in filmmaking is possible. AFDA, probably South Africa’s most reputable film school, has campuses in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Gaborone, Botswana.


movie clapboard
It is possible to find a great film school in South Africa. | Source: Unsplash

t AFDA, a popular destination for budding film industry talent, it is possible to do a Bachelor of Arts in Motion Picture Medium which is a three-year course and equivalent to an NQF Level 7.

Some of the programmes you are likely to find at school of art that covers filmmaking could include:

  • Film production
  • Television production
  • Computer animation
  • Photography
  • Gaming graphic design or Game Art
  • Scriptwriting
  • Producing
  • Costume Design
  • Hair and Make-Up Design

History of Art

It goes without saying that if you are interested in a particular form of art, or even art in general, that you will be interested in its history!

There are a few reasons why you will find that the History of Art is almost always a subject at almost every art school or creative arts college. One of the reasons is that students who specialise in visual arts, in particular, are usually inspired and influenced by contemporary artists, but also by the great artists who have gone before them. Another is that many students are curious about the world of art galleries, museums and auctions and are therefore drawn to an art school that offers the history of art.

Fortunately, history of art courses can also be found without having to actually attend one of the prestigious art colleges or local design school. For instance, you could include Art History as a subject in many Bachelor of Arts degree courses even if you are not doing any other art subjects.

It’s also possible to find online courses or a private History of Art tutor. In South Africa, private tutors that cover almost every topic under the sun can be found on a website called Superprof. This can be quite helpful as it actually shows you which tutors are located near to you and even how much they charge per hour etcetera. If you don’t need face-to-face tuition you could even opt for online History of Art lessons with a Superprof tutor.

Building Your Portfolio

If you intend to follow an academic career in art, the most important tool you will need for every creative arts college or design school that you attend will be your portfolio. This is also true when you decide to enter the job market.

Once you are qualified, or even if you don’t have a formal qualification from an art college or university, your portfolio is like your curriculum vitae.

As an artist, building a portfolio should be one of your most important time investments, it can be stressful, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Before you start consider the following three helpful steps. These will help you to ensure that you are ready to meet the entry requirements of the design school or art colleges of your choice.

Consider the Type of Artwork You Have

students in an art lecture
To be accepted into an art school, you will need to build a compelling art portfolio. | Source: Unsplash

If you are in the process of building a portfolio and don’t have enough artwork to include, speak to the school of art or art colleges to which you are applying and find out if work in progress art is acceptable. You will probably find that art educators will understand the dilemma of a limited art portfolio better than you think.

Not only will they be able to advise you on the type of pieces that are most appropriate for you to include, but they could also explain to you how to best organise your work.

Organising Your Portfolio

Whether you are an undergraduate or high school student, organising your artwork into a portfolio is one of the most difficult and yet important steps, for your art school applications.

Actually, having a really organised portfolio is even tricky for the most seasoned of artists. Even if you are an experienced artist who has exhibited and sold countless pieces of your work, organising your work is still vital. Here are a few general rules for building an organised portfolio.

  • Be selective: while you may think that every piece of your art is indicative of your progress, remember that the selectors of the design school or art colleges that you are applying to, will be on the look-out for a narrative.
  • How to be selective: you could pick artwork based on the chronological order, a shift in values or by its progression.

Build a Narrative

Finally, it is really important to reiterate the importance of building a narrative. This is something that you should do throughout any design school tenure and is literally the difference between an average portfolio and an excellent one.

Here are a few guidelines to help create a narrative around your art portfolio. This effort could make the difference you need in getting into your desired school of art.

  • Be unique: this is much easier than you think, just focus on what inspires you and your work will naturally be different to everyone else’s.
  • Check your motivation: Knowing your reason, or as Simon Sinek so famously teaches - knowing your why, is an exercise that can help set the foundations for your life!
  • Establish your storyline: Once again, this is such an important aspect. Spend time reflecting on what you would like the artwork you have chosen to include in your portfolio to impart to strangers. Ask yourself, what you would like your art to mean to the world. This is the question that every school of art teacher is going to need to be answered.

Your Application Process

If you are applying to ay school of art, one of the most important things you will need is a portfolio or the beginnings of a portfolio.

Research art colleges in areas near you, download their prospectus and find out what their entry requirements are.

Once you have a university or art school prospectus you can find a course that suits you. You could also decide to work towards your Bachelor of Arts or art qualification online. This is possible, especially if you are a self-motivated student.

Whichever way you decide to do it, finding your way into the exciting world of art, is one you will never regret!

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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.