So, you’re an ardent artist, and your desire to express yourself creatively is so strong that you’ve decided to pursue a degree in art, even though it may be against your parents’ wishes.

Bear in mind that, as with any degree, your ability to turn that art degree into a lucrative career, be it through marketing your own artwork, curating art, or landing a successful job in the art world, will be a reality you will need to deal with. For that reason, understanding exactly what it is that you want to do is the best place to start on your journey to discovering the best art school for you.

multicoloured picture frames
You have the talent, now find the right school to help you perfect it. ⎢Source: Unsplash

As one of the largest fields in the world, art has impacted human activity and existence since the beginning of recorded history. In fact, history was first recorded and communicated by means of art. Consequently, you’ll find that the choice of art qualifications available is as vast as the industry is wide. From simple sketches to qualifications in painting, graphic design and metalwork, even the greatest art aficionado would not be able to list the wide range of art courses available and ready to pique your interest.

Getting to grips with what courses are available at the various South African universities and colleges is an important step towards choosing the right one for you; whether you want to run your own art studio, or aspire to work in a creative agency as a graphic designer. This article serves as a guide to give you a better idea of the types of art education available, and what you need to do to build up your portfolio.

This way, whether your passion lies in art history, or you want to spend all of your time in an art studio, you’ll be able to find the best fit for you.

Which Art Course is Right for You?

painter painting
Remember, art represents a diverse field. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Before you begin hunting for the perfect art school, there are several distinctions in the field of art that first require some clarification.

There are typically three primary categories of art studies: the visual arts, performing arts, and literature.

There is a lot of naturally-occurring crossover between these categories, but our main focus will be on the different types of art programmes available in the first and second categories.

Fine Art

As the definition of fine art is pretty broad, it is easy to be confused by it, and the bachelor’s and master’s programmes in this category clearly reflect the crossover between the three art categories mentioned above. Ranging from theatre and photography specialisations, to illustration and digital media, the variety in the types of art on offer in this degree will depend entirely on the university in question.

various paints
There are several disciplines you could pursue. ⎢Source: Unsplash

However, there are many common programmes you are sure to find in this field, such as:

  • Ceramics
  • Sculpture
  • Print Media
  • Design
  • Drawing and Painting.

It is possible to find learning institutions with different specialisation areas that deal with certain of the abovementioned subjects. For example, both fashion schools and universities with a fine arts focus could offer a design programme.

Film School

When it comes to film schools; however, you are dealing with a different beast altogether.

Where you are likely to find film studies programmes in many universities, there are also numerous schools dedicated solely to the development of the technical skills involved in film.

You could find lecture-based programs specialising in components such as film theory, or universities where you will spend almost all of your time directing or filming movies. Here are some of the most common types of programmes you will find in a film school:

  • Computer animation
  • Television and Movie Production
  • Photography
  • Game Art.

Art History

painter's palette
Learn all there is to know about art history and work as a historian. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Art history is a great way to pursue your passion for art, even if you don’t have much artistic ability or natural talent. The great news is, art history is typically available in nearly every university, so you can supplement your art classes or design school studies with this great field of study.

There are several types of art history programmes from which to choose, and you could specialise in a specific period, or opt to study the subject in conjunction with your Bachelor or Master of Fine Arts.

The Top Art Schools in South Africa

Regardless of whether your art school is a prestigious university or a smaller art institute, you will need to finance your studies.

If funding is a problem, there are some options to look into.

Many tertiary institutions offer bursaries to support those who are talented and hard-working, but don’t have the means to fund their studies. It may even be worth investigating whether any government grants are available, as these can go a long way in alleviating the burden of tuition costs. Correspondence universities are also typically much more affordable than their brick and mortar counterparts.

four reels of film
Yes, film making is an art. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Here, then, are the best universities and schools in South Africa to study art, design, and architecture, differentiated by the discipline they specialise in. The application requirements differ from school to school, so be sure to pay attention to what is required.

Film Education

  • AFDA - The School of the Creative EconomyAFDA is Africa’s top film, television and performance school, with 25 years’ experience in the tertiary education landscape. Internationally recognised, AFDA is a Student Academy Award-winning institution and the first and only African film school to be nominated for, and win, the best foreign student film award at the Student Oscars in 2006 and runner up as a finalist in 2013.
  • University of the Witwatersrand – This well-established university in Johannesburg offers students excellent intellectual and practical film education, and equips them with the tools needed to participate in the global film and media industries. The established filmmaking programmes at WITS develop students’ conceptual creativity, intellectual rigour, and strong practical filmmaking capabilities.
  • Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking – This internationally renowned film school is known for producing progressive and responsibly-minded graduates empowered to captivate audiences with authentic story-telling and innovative filmmaking that is indigenous to Africa. Named by Ford Foundation as “an exemplar of best practice for post-secondary training”, this film school has an excellent reputation.

Design Education

colour chart for graphic designer
There are some amazing graphic design courses in SA. ⎢Source: Unsplash
  • Inscape – As the first institution in South Africa to offer the Bachelor of Design degree, and the only institution to offer Ideation Design, this design school seeks to break down silos in thinking and creativity. They also have a scholarship programme available.

Fine Art Schools

  • Stellenbosch University – If you’re interested in discovering a variety of programmes and courses, such as Jewellery Design, Fine Art and Visual Communication Design, ranging from the bachelor level all the way to PhD, then Stellenbosch University’s Department of Visual Arts is for you.
  • University of Cape Town – This university’s Fine Art department, founded in 1925, is better known as the Michaelis School of Fine Art, and has a long and proud tradition of producing outstanding graduates. Covering subjects such as the Discourse of Art, Painting, Sculpture, New Media, Photography, and Print Media, you are sure to find the programme that best suits your interests.


architect's blueprint
There are a number of great architecture programmes available. ⎢Source: Unsplash
  • University of Pretoria – UP’s Department of Architecture’s internationally accredited programmes and commitment to innovation, aims to promote a sustainable and prospering South Africa. Start by checking out their BA programmes, which include Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Landscape.
  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology – The National Diploma and BTech programmes offered by this university focus on the student gaining strong creative, technical and practical problem-solving skills in construction methodology, materials and innovative detail building design.

Art Universities in Other Countries

If you can, why not consider a university in another country? You could follow a bridging programme, pursue a four-year degree in the arts, or simply enjoy a semester overseas in collaboration with your local art school. An international experience is enriching from both a professional and cultural perspective.

artist's paint brushes in jars
Ever considered studying art abroad? ⎢Source: Unsplash

If you’re interested, take the time to research the international art schools listed below.

  • North America might have what you’re looking for:
    • Parsons School of design, United States
    • Rhode Island School of Design, United States
    • Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico
  • A European College of Art and Design might be just the thing:
    • Politecnico di Milano, Italy
    • Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Denmark
  • Visit the UK for top local art schools:
    • The Glasgow School of Art
    • University College London
  • Great universities in Asia for art and design:
    • Tongji University, China
    • Seoul National University, Korea
    • National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Finding a Job after Graduation

Believe it or not, the hardest part about studying art, whether you’re an undergraduate or have already entered the art world, is not what happens in the lecture hall, but what takes place after graduating, i.e. finding a job!

art exhibition
Perhaps you'll exhibit your artwork in a gallery one day. ⎢Source: Unsplash

There are many potential employment opportunities available to you after you graduate: teaching art, becoming an art educator at a museum, leading workshops locally and abroad, becoming a regular feature in an exhibit, or even developing into a senior lecturer or director at a South African university.

Whether you strive to have your art featured in the best galleries or want to secure your place as a resident artist at a university, aspiring artists would do well to reach out to alumni after graduation. Getting student work into an exhibition or integrated in studio art is a challenge that most alumni understand well, and their advice will be invaluable.

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A South African in France who loves to travel and discover new cultures, is passionate about photography, and who is happiest near the ocean.