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Fine Art Subject Guide

Fine art is a branch of the liberal arts that is concerned with the creation of visual works for aesthetic purposes, the training of artists, and understanding the context and intentions of artistic works. 

It’s a popular subject at postgraduate level that can allow students to develop as artists, as well as prepare for successful careers in a variety of sectors that value creativity, independence and visual thinking. 

There are a wide range of postgraduate study programs on offer to prospective students, from taught and research degrees to short courses and doctoral pathways. This guide has all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision for the next step in your fine arts journey. You can find out what type of studies you can undertake, what skills you’ll build, what jobs you could move into and the entry requirements for courses. 


Why do a fine arts degree? 

Fine art stands out among the liberal arts as a uniquely visual, adaptable subject of study that attracts students from all kinds of backgrounds due to their passion for creating, understanding or showcasing art. 

Students who choose to study fine art will set themselves up to succeed across many aspects of the art industry, whether as an artist themselves or in the industry that supports it. It’s an applied subject that provides the framework, tools and expert support that students need to develop their craft and style into something truly unique, powerful and, in many cases, professional. 

Studying fine art equips learners with a wide range of excellent transferable skills too, from critical thinking to creativity, independent research to the communication of complex or abstract topics. 

Postgraduate study is a great way to build on undergraduate progress and specialise in a certain artistic or industrial niche. 

What qualifications can you get? 

There are several types of fine art courses available at postgraduate level, so whatever your objectives or current level of experience, there’s a study option that will suit your needs. 

Taught qualifications like the postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma, MA or MFA are typically delivered through a mix of lectures, studio sessions, tutor sessions and seminars. They are usually assessed through coursework and, in some cases, exams, and are generally designed to help students build a varied and robust set of skills and develop a broad understanding of fine art as a field. 

Research programmes, like the MRes, MPhil or PhD are dedicated to training students in research, equipping them with the tools they need to conduct their own independent research and supporting them throughout the process. 

>What jobs can you do with a fine arts degree? 

Completing a postgraduate qualification in this area is a great way to prepare for success in a range of fine arts jobs. This isn’t necessarily restricted to working as an artist, however, but also offers opportunities across a breadth of relevant industry roles. Some graduates of fine arts choose not to remain in the arts industry at all, but go on to successfully work in a range of job types in other sectors. 

Some of the roles you could expect to move on to after your studies include: 

  • Fine artist 
  • Graphic designer 
  • Illustrator 
  • Printmaker 
  • Ceramics design 
  • Glass design 
  • Concept artist 
  • Digital artist 
  • Animator 
  • VFX artist 
  • Creative director 
  • Art director 
  • Art therapist 
  • Art gallery manager 
  • Community arts manager 
  • Arts administrator 
  • Conservator 
  • Curator 
  • Fashion designer 
  • Interior designer 

What are the fine arts degree entry requirements? 

Each fine arts degree programme sets its own entry requirements, so students should always check the course page on our university search tool or university website before applying. 

Typically, taught master’s in fine art require applicants to have an undergraduate honours degree in a relevant area, preferably within the visual arts. However, many courses also accept applicants from a variety of backgrounds. In most cases, applicants will need to submit a portfolio of work for consideration and complete an interview. 

PhD applicants will typically need to have a previous postgraduate qualification, like a master’s, in a relevant area. 

What fine arts courses are there? 

There are a range of courses to explore as a prospective postgraduate, any of which may best suit a student depending on the type of fine arts careers they’re working towards. You could consider courses like: 

  • MA Fine Art 
  • MFA Fine Art 
  • MA Aesthetics and Art Theory 
  • PhD Fine Art 
  • MA Arts (Fine Art and Photography) 

What topics does a fine arts degree cover? 

Studying a fine arts degree will be a unique experience from university to university, course to course. However, many will share certain topics or subjects in common. You might expect to study in areas like: 

  • Fine art practice 
  • Culture and context 
  • Professional practices 
  • Fine art theory 
  • Outcomes of research in practice 

What do you learn in a fine arts degree? 

Completing a degree in this area is the ideal way to prepare for a range of fine arts jobs, laying the groundwork for a successful career in a number of related areas. Many postgraduate degrees are designed to help students develop a robust set of technical and artistic skills, honing their individual craft and style in order to stand out as a unique professional artist.  

However, it’s typical for students to gain a wide range of transferable skills during their studies too. These will allow students to thrive not only as artists but as professionals in the art industry, related sectors or elsewhere in society. 

Some of the skills you’ll be able to develop during your fine arts degree include: 

  • Painting, drawing and sketching 
  • Sculpture and 3D artistry 
  • Photography and filming 
  • Using digital visual or audio tools 
  • Researching 
  • Presenting and preparing for exhibitions 
  • In addition to transferable skills like: 
  • Creative thinking 
  • Collaborating with others 
  • Observing, researching and analysing 
  • Solving problems creatively 
  • Responding to criticism and developing work 
  • Entrepreneurial and marketing skills 

How will you be taught and assessed? 

Teaching in fine art postgraduate courses is typically through a blend of lectures and talks, directed and self-directed studio sessions, tutorials and seminars, critiques and other discussions, and individual study. 

Assessment is usually through a number of formative assessment events throughout a course, in addition to summative examinations and exhibitions at the end of terms or the course itself. These could be in the form of presentations of work, assessment of portfolios and research, written assignments, and exhibitions of work. 

How long is a fine arts degree? 

There are several types of fine arts degree that you could pursue at postgraduate level, which can vary widely in length depending on the qualification type and your chosen study pattern. 

Studying a taught master’s in fine art, such as an MA or MFA, will last between one and two years if studied full-time. Studying part-time will double these timescales. 

It’s possible to complete shorter courses like the PGCert and PGDip in under a year, or spend up to four years studying a PhD in fine arts, if studying full-time. 

Where can you study fine arts? 

There are more than 80 fine arts universities offering courses at postgraduate level, with over 200 programmes of study to choose from in total. With such a wealth of choice, using our course search tool is a great way to research your options effectively and make an informed choice. 

What similar subjects are there to fine arts? 

There are a number of other subjects you may be interested in studying at postgraduate level if you’re considering fine arts. They include: 

  • Graphic design 
  • Animation 
  • Sculpture 
  • Illustration 
  • Art history 

Next: Search for fine art courses


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