Best Art Schools: America & Europe
Courses, Degrees, Careers: How to Choose the Right Arts College.

For advice about how to judge
a painting, please see our
educational articles:
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art
and How to Appreciate Paintings.

Best Art Schools in America and Europe


How To Choose The Right Art School?
What Art Subjects Can You Choose From?
What Types of Degrees/Diplomas Are Available?
What Careers Are Available to Art & Design Graduates?
Art Schools: Origins
The Academy of Fine Arts
Best Art Schools in America & Canada
Best Art Schools in Britain & Ireland
Art Colleges, Summer Schools in Europe

Here are fifty of the best art schools,
colleges, and institutes in the United
• Rhode Island School of Design
• Yale University School of Art
• School of the Art Institute of Chicago
• Cranbrook Academy of Art
• Maryland Institute College of Art
• Virginia Commonwealth University
• California Institute of the Arts
• Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts
• UCLA School of Arts/Architecture
• California College of the Arts
• Columbia U School of the Arts
• Temple U Tyler School of Art
• Bard College Division of the Arts
• Pratt Institute School of Art/Design
• School of Visual Arts in New York
• UC San Diego Dept of Visual Arts
• U of Texas College of Fine Arts

• Washington University in St. Louis
• Otis College of Art and Design
• UC Davis Department of Art
• U of Illinois School of Architecture
• U of Wisconsin Art Department
• Arizona State University Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
• Indiana U School of Fine Arts
• Massachusetts College of Art
• Rutgers-Mason Gross School of Arts
• San Francisco Art Institute
• UC Berkeley Dept of Art Practice
• Minneapolis College of Art/Design
• Tufts School of Fine Arts
• U of Georgia Lamar Dodd Art School
• U of Michigan Art and Design
• U of Washington School of Art
• University of the Arts in Philadelphia
• Herron School of Art & Design
• U of Arizona College of Fine Arts
• University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning
• U of Pennsylvania School of Design
• Claremont Graduate University
• Cleveland Institute of Art
• Cornell University Department of Art
• Penn State School of Visual Arts
• U of Minnesota Department of Art
• U of New Mexico College of Fine Arts
• U of Tennessee School of Art
• Boston U College of Fine Arts
• Ohio University College of Fine Arts
• Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
• San Diego State U School of Art
• U of Chicago Dept of Visual Arts


Like most tertiary colleges, art schools come in all shapes and sizes. So the question "which art school is best?" is almost impossible to answer. Best for whom? We may all agree, for instance, that Yale University School of Art, the Royal College of Art in London, and the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris are three of the best art colleges in the world, but they are useless to any art student who wants to be taught in (say) Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, or Chinese. The best art school is the educational institution which is best for you the student, not best according to some list of objective criteria.

How To Choose The Right Art School

Okay, so choosing the art college which is best for you, is the all-important issue. But even though it is a personal choice, it should take into account a number of factors, as follows:

Personal Goals
What are you going to do with the art you learn? If you want to make commercial use of it, then an art degree will prove more useful than an art diploma, or short foundation course. If a Bachelor's degree is not appropriate for you, consider one of the growing number of Associate degree programs, or an online degree qualification.

For the origins, history, types
and genres, see:
Fine Art Painting.

For the evolution of plastic art,
its styles and famous sculptors,
see: Art of Sculpture.

For suggestions, see:
How to Appreciate Sculpture.

For advice, see:
How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

See: Art Museums in America.

See: Art Museums in Europe.

For more about the various
definitions of creativity, plus
a discussion of aesthetics,
and classification, see:
Definition of Art.

For more about the different types,
and styles of traditional and
contemporary art, see:
Types of Art.

Ice Sculpture - find out more about melting art!

Qualifications You Are Looking For
If you have a specific arts career in mind, find out what educational courses and qualifications are needed. (Subject, Type of Degree, and so on.) If possible, contact the Human Resources department of a company that offers the sort of career you want. Once you know the college courses and qualifications they require, check that they are offered by art schools on your short list. Most important: check that your chosen schools are properly accredited (recognized by the industry's governing body). For instance, the accreditation body for art/ design schools is the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). So check your list of art schools with NASAD.

Teaching Environment
Two art colleges may offer identical courses, but their respective teaching environments may be completely different. One may be local, the other out-of-state. One may be on campus, the other divided across several city blocks. One may be urban, the other in a small town. One may be well-resourced in art materials and equipment, the other may not. (Students interested in design courses, on (say) web design, game design, graphic design, or animation, definitely need to check that the college is resourced with the latest technology.) Research the schools on your list, and see how they compare. If possible, go online and chat to college undergraduates.

Teaching staff will vary from school to school, so see how various faculties compare. But be aware that famous artists don't necessarily make the best art teachers!

Postgraduate Opportunities
What does each school have to offer you by way of postgraduate assistance. Do they offer placement programs or internships with commercial art/design companies? Do they have a track record of finding jobs for their students with professional artists or designers? What other connections are they able to offer that will further your career?

Your Budget
Compare the course fees charged by each art school. Also, check what "extras" have to be paid for. Check the costs of accomodation, food and daily travel. Ask about scholarships, loan facilities, and also student teaching or tutoring opportunities. If possible, go online and talk to current undergraduates about the real cost of becoming a student.

Entry Qualifications Required By Your Art School
Doublecheck that you understand and can meet the entry qualifications required by the colleges on your short-list.


What Art Subjects Can You Choose From?

Back in the 16th century, students working in Europe's earliest Art Academies were only taught drawing (disegno) until they graduated, after which they could receive instruction in painting (colorito).

By contrast, today's art students are faced with a huge range of subject-options, which typically include: fine art (painting, sculpture), history of art, design, illustration, cartoons, photography, film, animation and video art, various types of graphic art and printmaking, as well as computer art, conservation, and museum studies. Several of these subjects cover a large number of sub-topics. Sculpture, for instance, is a multi-media subject area. Photography can be a lens-based form of fine art, or a strictly commercial activity, including specialist forms like photojournalism. Design, too, is a general category which embraces a diverse number of complex disciplines, including: 3-D, graphic, interior and fashion design, as well as digital and web design. Printmaking embraces traditional woodcuts, various types of etching and engraving, as well as more modern lithography and screenprinting.

What Types of Degrees/Diplomas Are Available?

There are four basic types of third-level art course, whose details vary according to country.

(1) Foundation Course. This diploma-level course typically offers a broad introduction to an arts or design subject. In Year 1, many Bachelor degree programs (eg. fine arts) offer foundation courses in several related disciplines, giving undergraduates an all-round understanding of their field, prior to specialization. An Associate Degree Program is another type of foundation course, which typically teaches the student the design basics, and explains the most commonly used hardware and software utilities, as well as other relevant tools and equipment.

(2) Bachelor Degree Program. This is the basic degree course for all university subjects, including arts. So when the term 'degree' is used, it usually means Bachelor Degree. Usually lasting a minimum of three years, a bachelor degree in art design gives you the necessary credentials to pursue your creative career at the highest level, or can be a stepping stone to postgraduate arts courses at Masters or Doctorate level. A bachelor degree goes far beyond the basic curriculum covered by diplomas, foundation courses and associate degrees. As stated, a Bachelor Degree initially may involve a series of foundation courses to help the student decide which area to major in.

(3) Master Degree Program. This is the highest standard educational course on offer at most universities, and entry is restricted to graduates in possession of a Bachelor's Degree. Lasting for 1-2 years, a Master's allows the student to specialize in a relatively narrow area, thus acquiring advanced educational skills of greater commercial value. It may also be a stepping stone to a Doctorate or an academic teaching post as a lecturer or Professor.

(4) Doctorate (PhD). This is a 3-year postgraduate dissertation, whose parameters are typically agreed upon between the student and his/her university tutor, which requires original research by the student. A doctorate represents the summit of educational achievement, and comparatively few PhDs in art and design are awarded.

What Careers Are Available to Art & Design Graduates?

The most popular career pathways for arts graduates include:

Careers For Fine Arts Graduates

(1) Professional artist - painter, sculptor or printmaker.
(2) Commercial artist in a commercial art studio (billboards, advertising, publishing). Note: knowledge of computer graphics software packages is now essential.
(3) Illustrator. A more specialized type of commercial art, creating images for digital and print media, or Fantasy artwork for books/magazines.
(4) Animator. Many of the most successful animators trained initially in fine art painting.
(5) Cartoonist, caricaturist for digital or print media.
(6) Art Teacher. (Note: Qualification in History of Art may be necessary)
(7) Arts Professional - in (say) administration, conservation, curating, museum studies. (Note: Qualification in History of Art may be necessary)

Graduates in photography have a tailor-made career pathway as a commercial photographer or photojournalist. For differing career paths, see: Greatest Photographers (c.1880-present). (Please also read: Is Photography Art?)

Careers For Design Graduates

The most popular career opportunities for design graduates include:

(1) Graphic Designer.
(2) Interior Designer.
(3) Web Designer.
(4) Games Designer.
(5) Animator.

All five pathways for designers are in high-growth areas and offer financially rewarding long-term careers. With the exception of animation, which is common to both art and design graduates, careers for design graduates tend to be safer and better-paid than those for fine art graduates.


Art Schools: Origins and History

Human art burst into life during the tiny period 30,000-15,000 BCE, when a host of cave painters began decorating cave walls in Southern France and Spain, and rock carvers across Europe began to produce small female sculptures known as Venus figurines. Who were these incredible prehistoric artists? Who taught them how to paint? Who kept alive the painterly traditions of mixing ochre pigments or fashioning brushes from selected types of animal hair? No one knows. (For more, see: Cave Painting.)

As art took root in early civilizations such as those of Sumer, Egypt, Ancient Persia, Crete, Mycenae, Etruria and Ancient Greece, the demand for painters, sculptors and similar craftsmen increased. Schools would have been established to train these 'decorators' - for none were yet regarded as 'artists' - a handful of whom would no doubt have achieved great fame, but neither they nor their schools are known. Not until the Classical era of Greek sculpture (c.500-300 BCE) did the names of artists (like Phidias, Myron, Polykleitos, Praxiteles and others) become known. But anonymity reimposed itself during the Roman Empire, the Eastern Byzantine Empire and much of the Middle Ages.

Early Christian Art

The era of Christian art - which began in Ireland with illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells, and spread across Europe to the great continental monasteries in Aachen, Trier, Regensburg and Cologne, run by the Carolingian and Ottonian royal courts - came and went without revealing the names of its artistic craftsmen, as did the era of early Romanesque stained glass and religious murals. In fact, it wasn't until the late Romanesque period of the 12th century that we hear of individual sculptors like the Frenchman Gislebertus (active 1st half 12th century), the Spaniard Master Mateo (active 2nd half 12th century) and the Italian Benedetto Antelami (active 1178-1196). Painters, incidentally, were more rarely heard of, not least because paintings were less durable than stone sculptures, and because most painters were artist-monks who, one suspects, embraced anonymity before God.

Cathedral Art & Architecture During The Gothic Period

Because we know so little about the lives and careers of these early artists, we know almost nothing about art education prior to Gothic times. So while we know a reasonable amount about the people who commissioned great works like the Lorsch Gospels, the Bamberg Apocalypse, the Bayeux Tapestry, or the cathedral of Chartres, we know little about the apprenticeships, workshops, studios and other types of art school that existed until then. Even the Gothic era is a relatively closed book. Most Gothic art concerned cathedral architecture, along with architectural sculpture (column statues, portal reliefs), wooden altarpieces (diptychs, triptychs etc.) stained glass, the occasional mosaic or tapestry. Typically, hundreds of local labourers were recruited to complete the building and its treasures, under the supervision of master-stone masons and other master artisans, most of whose names are lost to us. Only exceptional individuals - usually associated with a particularly famous pulpit, or series of column statues - would have their names recorded for posterity. However, it would have been precisely these men - such as the Italian sculptors Nicola Pisano, Arnolfo di Cambio, Lorenzo Maitani, Andrea Pisano, and the International Gothic, Sienese and Florentine painters Cimabue, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Giotto, Simone Martini, Jean Pucelle, Masolino, the Limbourg Brothers and Jean Fouquet - whose workshops provided the basic training for the generations of goldsmiths, painters, sculptors and other artisans, whose works formed the backbone of Renaissance art in the quattrocento.

The Renaissance and after

Due to the astonishing talents displayed by the painters and sculptors of the early Renaissance (1400-90) - such as Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Andrea Mantegna, Botticelli and others - together with the fame that these virtuosi achieved, the image of the 'artist' began to change from that of a highly skilled decorator, to that of a revered member of the intelligentsia: a process expedited during the High Renaissance (1490-1530) by the creative accomplishments of Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519) (The Last Supper, and Mona Lisa), and Michelangelo (sculptures, David and Pieta; Sistine Chapel frescos). This upgrade in the status of artists, meant that art became recognized as an intellectual discipline (like engineering and architecture), rather than merely a manual skill (like metalwork). It could therefore be taught in schools. Which is why, from the sixteenth century onwards, a number of official art schools sprang up across Europe, starting in Italy. These schools were known as academies of arts. In addition, certain Old Masters founded schools of their own: in Bologna, for example, Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), his cousin Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and his brother Agostino Carracci (1557-1602) established the "Academy degli Desiderosi", later called the "Academia degli Incamminati" (Academy of the Progressives). This academy formed the nucleus of the Bolognese School of painting which flourished between 1590 and 1630.

The Academy of Fine Arts

The two earliest academies were: The Academy of Art in Florence founded in 1562 by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), under Grand Duke Cosimo 1 de Medici, and the Academy of Art in Rome founded in Rome about 1583 by the Pope. Other academies included Haarlem (1583); Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Paris (1648); Nuremberg (1674), Poland (1694), Berlin (1697), Vienna (1705), St Petersberg (1724), Stockholm (1735), Copenhagen (1738), Madrid (1752), and London (1768). The first official American Academy of the Fine Arts was founded in Philadelphia, in 1805.

Academic Art Teaching Methods

Initially, most academies educated young artists according to the classical theories of art established during the Italian Renaissance. The rules and conventions taught by these academies, came to be known as Academic Art, which was marked by extreme rigidity. For example, entry to the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts was only allowed for candidates who passed an exam and obtained a letter of reference from a noted Professor of art. If accepted, the candidate began the fine arts course, advancing in stages only after completing a portfolio of drawings for approval. Only after completing several years of draftsmanship, including figure sketching, anatomy and geometry, were students permitted to paint. Furthermore, a rigid set of aesthetics were observed. Things like subject matter, types of pose, use of colour in painting and so on, were strictly regulated, and interpreted so conservatively by Academy Professors that the teaching system proved unable to adapt to changing tastes and techniques. As a result, by the 19th century it was increasingly ignored and sidelined.

The British Royal Academy (RA) was less rigid than its counterparts in Europe. The unorthodox painting methods of JMW Turner, for example, did not stop him becoming the youngest ever Academician.

As the Academy declined, new schools sprang up, including studio schools for selected pupils in imitation of the system used at the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts. Among the best were the academy of Eugene Carriere (1849-1906), and Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), the Art Students League of New York, founded in 1875 when the school of the National Academy closed down because of financial problems, the German Bauhaus design school (1919-32), and the Subjects of the Artists School, founded in New York (1948) by Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and others.

However, academies did not give up their influence over art education without a fight. Despite their old-fashioned approach to the teaching of art, they retained considerable commercial power. For example, each academy of art staged a number of showcase exhibitions (salons) during the year, which typically attracted enormous interest from art collectors. Participation was a guaranteed seal of approval for an aspiring artist. Moreover, artists whose works were 'approved of' and who showed regularly at the Academy's salon, would be granted Associate and in due course Full Membership of the Academy - the ultimate accolade for any ambitious painter or sculptor.

Academic Art in the 20th Century

Curiously, although the overall approach of Academy-style teaching is still seen as outmoded, art collectors still attach enormous value to painting and sculpture that reflects the rigour and thoroughness of the academic method. Indeed there remains something of a gap between curators and other arts professionals - who tend to prefer contemporary art forms like installation, video and sound art: doubters please consult the list of recent Turner Prize Winners - and art buyers at auction, who continue to demonstrate a higher degree of conservatism.

Best Art Schools in America & Canada

Here is a short selection of the best art colleges, design institutes and accredited arts courses in the United States and Canada, together with their tuition fees.

Northeastern Art Schools
New York
Rhode Island
Washington D.C.

Southern Art Schools

Midwestern Art Schools

Western Art Schools

Canadian Colleges
Art Schools in Canada

Best Art Schools in Britain and Ireland

A short selection of the top art colleges/universities and design courses in the UK and Ireland.

England & Wales

Best Art Schools in Ireland

National College of Art & Design
Crawford College of Art & Design
Dublin Art Schools
Munster Art Schools
Leinster Art Colleges
Connacht Fine Art Courses
Ulster Art Colleges

Art Colleges and Summer Schools in Europe

Ecole Des Beaux Arts (Paris)
Best Art Schools in Florence
Art Schools in Rome

• For more information about the best arts courses, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.