Artists looking at international degree programs should expect a significant focus on studio courses which will help them develop their craft and portfolio throughout the program. Many countries offering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs have a strong emphasis on creating and showing your artwork, and less focus on theory, compared to programs in the United States. Depending on the country and program, students studying international art or fine arts can get more direct attention from professors as well as have the opportunity to train under renowned artists by studying art abroad.
Why Study Art Abroad
Art students should consider an international art or fine arts degree in order to build their portfolio, learn specific training in a method or style, and build a network of international artists and other students. Both bachelor’s and master’s candidates will gain a new perspective on culture and identity, which will inevitably influence their artistic direction and subject focus.
Students who pursue an international art degree will benefit from instruction at schools that are recognized for a specific discipline and whose professors may present different training and processes that will expand their artistic vocabulary. For example, many European art schools have much smaller studio and instruction spaces than the large universities in the United States - great training for any future artist!
Most of the top places to earn an art or fine arts degree abroad are located in Western Europe.
Italy: Italy’s history of art innovation and traditions surrounding craft and artisan training make it an obvious first location to consider for anyone thinking of pursuing an art degree abroad. Many of the institutions offering international programs for this type of degree in Italy are schools specifically focused on art and design. Top cities for finding art programs are Rome, Florence, and Milan. In Italy, the majority of institutions will be art schools or art and design institutes rather than comprehensive universities offering multiple colleges. Students will be able to take advantage of a close proximity to some of the world’s most breathtaking museums, including the Uffizi Gallery, Sistine Chapel, and the The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and may even be able to attend events like the incredible Venice Biennale.
France: With world-famous fine arts schools and museums, as well as a widespread cultural appreciation for art, France gives students another opportunity to learn in and out of the classroom. Paris is the central and most popular destination within France for international art degrees, and offers an interesting perspective because so much of its history and culture revolve around art. Students who obtain an art degree in France will have some of the finest museums as their classrooms, including the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and Pompidou. Outside of Paris, painters can choose to study the famous plein air method in the very French countryside where it was made famous by Monet and Renoir. In France, there is a fairly equal balance of degree programs from full universities and colleges focusing on art.
England: Studying fine art in the UK offers students the opportunity to get an international degree in an English-speaking country. London offers the most art degree programs as well as the cultural influence of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Students obtaining an art degree in England will benefit from the ever-changing and impactful shows at the Tate Modern and Saatchi Gallery, as well as more historical perspectives, such as the National Gallery and British Museum. There are several excellent and renowned art programs outside of London for students who prefer to study in a smaller city, such as Nottingham, Bath, and York. The majority of art degree programs in the UK are at universities offering multiple other disciplines rather than specific art schools, although within London the balance is pretty equal.
Academics & Degrees
Art students can find any artistic discipline offered in the U.S. in an international fine arts degree program, such as photography, sculpture, ceramics, painting, and printmaking. For many young artists the courses and professors of the program can be more important than that actual location, so it is a good idea to lay out expectations and priorities before making a decision. Students should also investigate the language of instruction - for specific programs some professors may only instruct in the local language. If participants have experience in the language or are able to do focused instruction to become familiar with art-related terms, this may not be a barrier.
In order to be eligible for master’s level art programs, students will usually need to submit their portfolio and artist’s statement, as well as some goals. For bachelor’s degree programs students may need to submit a portfolio of previous work or in some cases could be admitted without previous experience, depending on the program and school.
According to the requirements of the country, school, and degree program, students may find course instruction to be quite different from art courses in the United States. For fine art degree programs that are rooted in tradition and history, students may have more emphasis on creating work and learning traditional methods rather than more abstract discussions on art theory. This is especially true for more artisan disciplines, such as jewelry making, book making, or leatherworking, in which artists should expect to gain significant training on practical methods. Theory is still a part of most international art degree programs in some capacity, and for certain areas, like fashion, painting, and photography, there will still be a significant emphasis on art history and theory.
Advanced art degree programs place a high value on independence and self-motivation, with professors serving more of a guiding or training role rather than giving assignments. International art students should be prepared to receive feedback on their work and ideas as well as learn skills that will help them develop their practice and career.
Artists who pursue an art degree abroad will make themselves more competitive candidates for fellowships and residencies, both internationally and back in the U.S. due to their experience abroad and focused training. When applying for group or solo shows, students who are able to show their international studies will be able to reference certain international galleries and spaces they have worked in or seen first hand which will help them stand out from the crowd. In addition, artists who choose to pursue a master’s of fine arts degree abroad will be qualified for college and university teaching positions and have the potential to earn a higher salary in the future.
An international art degree offers the opportunity for students to gain insight into what it means to be a working artist as well as take their artistic practice and skills to the next level. By setting aside time to focus on their work, becoming immersed in a new culture or language, and surround themselves with serious young artists, international art students will reap the benefits of their degree both personally and professionally in the long run.