10 Tips for Studying Art in France

by Adrienne Erin

There are endless options when it comes to choosing a location for studying art and art history abroad, but France is quite likely the best. In the heart of Europe, French museums house some of the most famous pieces of art by the old masters. There is simply no better place to study oil painting, as well as a number of other time-honored art forms. 

For those of you trying to decide where to study art in France, and how to fully soak up all that French culture has to offer after arrival, check out these important tips:

Girl walking through a lavender field in Aix en Provence, France

Looking for an inspiration to spark your artistic mind? Why not try visiting some local vibrant sites like this lavender field in Aix en Provence, France?

Choose Your City

The first step on a journey to study art in France is to choose the city, before you ever consider all the study abroad programs each possible school offers. Paris is highly recommended because of the sheer amount of programs from which to choose and it is the epicenter of France. Americans are accustomed to a country filled with different centers: New York City is the financial center, Washington DC is the governmental center, San Francisco is known for its technology, and Los Angeles for its movie stars. Ancient countries, however, were not designed this way. In ancient countries, like France, there was value in centralizing everything, which is why Paris is simultaneously the center for finance, government, technology, and lots of other things…including art.

Take Advantage of Museums

When studying abroad in France, your study abroad program provider or university should issue you a student card. Talk to them ahead of time, because it is important to ensure that your carte d'étudiant shows that you are an art student of some kind, because in France, most museums offer free or radically reduced admission for art students! For example, check out Musée d'Orsay's policies about free admission.

Enroll in a Fine Arts Course

If at all possible, take an art class in one of the city's ateliers, which are fine arts workshops. This will not only provide the opportunity to learn about your art form of choice from people who have been studying it for perhaps their entire lives, but you will also be interacting with real French people you wouldn't have met otherwise.

Explore Art History

Academic requirements differ between each type of art degree program, some require very few hours of art history credits and others a variety of specific courses, or perhaps art history is your major. Whatever the necessary requirement, enroll in an art history class while studying in France. Nothing beats studying Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, or Henri Matisse one day in class, then going to the Louvre and seeing the pieces just discussed in person. Why look at the pages of a textbook when the real thing is down the street!

A street artist painting a portrait of a lady in Montmartre, Paris

An artist painting a portrait of a lady in Montmartre, Paris

Paint From The Originals

Even half a century ago, the process of learning to paint, sketch, or draw did not always occur in a classroom. It occurred in galleries and museums, where students would take up residence in front of an original piece of art, which they painstakingly copied onto their canvas. Students may be a little surprised the first time they see a painter copying their favorite Monet in the gallery, but as it turns out, most museums allow this, and some ateliers will even take special trips to paint directly from the originals.

Look For Artistic Internship Opportunities

France is an artistic center in Europe so it has a lot of opportunities to get involved in the arts, including internships. Kill two international experiences with one stone and study AND intern in France! Talk with program advisors and art teachers to scope out any opportunities they may know about, or contact other ateliers and artists directly. Many students find fantastic art internship opportunities just through word-of-mouth! For instance, students may find internships assisting artists in simple daily tasks, like cataloging years worth of photographic prints for an American photographer in Paris. It is always possible to find something that fits each individual's needs or interests and can be found with just a few well placed questions.

Soak Up the Culture

There are hundreds of art museums in France. There are likely to be dozens of them, as well as independent galleries, in whatever city you choose, even if it's not Paris. In addition, the TGV (super fast train) system connects all of the largest cities together, meaning that most of France's museums will not be more than three hours away from any other destination. Take this opportunity to visit every museum possible. Subscribe to their newsletters to learn about the best exhibits. Make a point to visit some of your favorite works of art in person while nearby.

Look for Street Art & Performances

Street artists and performers are literally everywhere in Paris. A simple stroll down the street and students will be surrounded by examples of art, artists at work, and live music. They will appear while riding the metro. Take the opportunity to explore, with eyes open, all the art that could be easily missed.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris located at the summit of the butte Montmartre.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris located at the summit of the butte Montmartre

Visit Montmartre

If Paris is the center of France's art scene, then Montmartre would have to be the center of Paris. A huge number of well-known artists lived there at some point in their life, from Claude Monet to Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh to Pablo Picasso. Though it's no longer an inexpensive, Bohemian neighborhood where artists can afford to live, caricaturists and watercolor painters still gather in the Place du Tertre, a few streets downhill from the Sacré Cœur.

Sketch en Plein Air

Follow in the footsteps of generations of artists enamored with the beauty and charm of Paris and other French cities, take the opportunity to sketch “in the open air.” This venture can be simple; sit alongside the Seine or on the footsteps of the Sacré Cœur with a sketchbook and some pencils. To be more ambitious carry along an easel and other tools of choice. No matter what part of the country you choose for your studies, breathtaking scenery is out there, waiting to be captured by a paint brush, sketch pencil, or lump of clay.

One final tip...don't waste anytime! Begin your search for an art study abroad program in France now!