Choosing to study art at a design school or school of the arts is ideal for someone who wants to be exposed to the many different programmes and topics available with an art education.

Before deciding to commit to any art school it is always advisable to request a prospectus for the year so that you can find out exactly what the course encompasses.

How to Define Art

There are various definitions available when it comes to defining art, but one general definition includes three important categories.

Two of the three, performing arts and visual arts include everything from playwriting to interior architecture. The third form, literature, is less present in art schools today, so for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the first two.

There is actually much interdisciplinary work between these three forms and it is helpful to know that there are actually generalisations that make them interconnect.

Fine Arts

The fine arts cover a great range of subject matter. A general definition of fine art is one that encompasses both the need for a fine skill as well as the creation of something beautiful. Typically, fine arts don’t mention any particular subject.

When thinking of fine arts, one often conjures up images of theory courses or ceramic classes, but it can actually include everything from music to painting.

Obtaining a degree in fine arts means you have access to a diverse range of programmes in your chosen art school. Here are some of the fields that will make up your art foundation studies in design school before you decide to specialise.

  • Architecture
  • Art design
  • Drawing and Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Studio arts
  • Digital media
  • Photography
  • Printmaking.
assortment of paint brushes on white background
Choose an art school that specialises in your particular passion. (Source: Unsplash)

The beauty with deciding to study fine arts is that you could choose a school of the arts that specialises in your particular passion, whether it is fashion or contemporary art. There are also usually scholarships available at many art schools, so be sure to check.

Film School

Studying art really allows you to specialise in ways that so many other fields don’t.

For instance, today so many young students are choosing film school as an expression of art.

And while film school usually includes traditional subjects like history of art, editing and screenwriting, it is also the art school at which you would choose to study animation as well as a host of other interesting subjects, here are a few you could expect to find in a film school prospectus.

  • Film and TV production
  • Photography
  • Digital animation
  • Gaming art.

History of Art

There are a surprising number of careers available in the realm of the history of art and this is a subject that almost every good school of the arts or design school will offer.

Perhaps you are interested in teaching or curating art, or working in a museum, gallery or at art auctions. A knowledge of the history of art, and indeed fine arts in general, could open up career opportunities for you.

The history of visual art, fine arts and performing arts are always influenced by the financial, social, religious and political movements of the world, making it a fascinating subject.

Career Opportunities for Art Students

Whether you have a degree in fine arts from a school of the arts affiliated to a top university like Michaelis at the University of Cape Town or Stellenbosch University or a diploma from a design school there are plenty of opportunities for art school graduates.

art on dispay at exhibition
You will need to understand art history if you intend to work in an art gallery. (Source: Unsplash)

Arts Administration

Whether you are a fine arts university or art school graduate, there are many opportunities in the field of arts administration if you also have subjects like business, history or finance.

The scope of work for an arts administrator could include:

  • Curating museum work
  • Running an arts centre
  • Running a design school
  • Selling contemporary artwork at a modern gallery
  • Managing a design school

Exhibition Work

Whether you have a degree in fine arts or not, displaying your artwork for sale can be both lucrative and rewarding. In fact, many art schools do an excellent job preparing students for this aspect of their art career as it requires constant output and production.


Once you have graduated from a school of the arts, you may very well be interested in establishing your own business. Fortunately, so many of the programmes found in an art school these days include business type skills that will help turn your creativity into business

Examples of the types of business you could consider with a fine arts degree include:

  • A film production company
  • A jewellery design company
  • Metalsmithing
  • A contemporary art gallery

Choosing a Design School

If you are thinking about a career in the art world, you are probably also wondering which school of the arts is best for you.

There are many factors to consider, not least of them would be price, quality of the programmes and the career doors the institution could open.

Don’t forget to also explore the scholarship opportunities at each art school as this could help make your decision.

In South Africa, there is a wide array of study options, ranging from the independent art school to the prestigious university art school options. Some institutions have gained reputations for specific genres of art. For instance, many South African students who want to study architecture know that Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth is an excellent choice.

Similarly, many film school students try and gain entry into AFDA. And when it comes to design schools that are perfect for certificates, degrees, diplomas and post-graduate degrees, both Vega and AAA School of Advertising (also known as Triple-A) are enormously popular options in South Africa.

art students painting
Find out what modules your course entails before registering. (Source: Unsplash)

How to Build a Portfolio

One of the most important things that any young artist can do, whether you are still at school and applying to a university or art school, or whether you are at university and applying for a job, is to build up the best portfolio that they can.

The best place to start in building a portfolio is to organise or arrange your work by picking a method by which to show your paintings, drawings or digital design. Some popular ways to do this include:

  • Chronological order – arrange in order from your first to most recent work.
  • Thematic order – arrange your work based on the subject matter.
  • Progression through a specific project.
  • A combination of all of the above.

One of the most important parts about building a portfolio is to be quite ruthless in your selection. If you are truly passionate about a centre genre of art, do not try to be everything to everyone. For instance, if you really want to pursue a career in the world of contemporary art, try and focus on building a contemporary art portfolio without including too many other distracting elements.

Also, many admissions programmes and job positions are quite strict in that they tend to limit the number of art pieces that will evaluate from a portfolio for a position.

paint brushes in jar of coloured water
Don't underestimate the importance of building up your art portfolio. (Source: Unsplash)

So while every art piece is incredibly special to your personal journey, try and think strategically as you build your portfolio.

Finding a Private Tutor

If you know you have the talent but are not already enrolled in a school of the arts or design school, but are nevertheless serious about a fine arts education, consider a private tutor.

In many instances, people who are formally pursuing another education path, but are passionate about the arts, find a way to study art part-time.

There are so many ways to find an art teacher to suit your goals, just ask around. Many advanced university students are willing to work part-time by tutoring beginner artists.

Check out the notice boards at every local design school near you and even put up a notice looking for a tutor at your nearest art school.

In South Africa, you could even turn to an online platform like Superprof which hosts tutors on just about every subject imaginable. There is even filter functionality so that you could find a private art tutor near you.

Another benefit is that many of these tutors actually offer their introductory session free of charge, which gives you the important opportunity to find out whether they are right for you in terms of your own art goals and interests.

Actually, if there isn’t a tutor near you, you still have access to art experts who are willing to tutor from all over the world, all you would need is a webcam and an internet connection. Today, through the digital world the whole world is accessible, so take advantage of it and possibly make a dream come true.

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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.