A Guide to the Best Art Schools in London, UK

The City and Guilds of London Art School has a variety of departments, including fine art and historic carving
The City and Guilds of London Art School has a variety of departments, including fine art and historic carving | Courtesy of City and Guilds of London Art School

London is one of the world’s leading cities for creativity. Artists Tracey Emin and Henry Moore, editors Caryn Franklin and Jefferson Hack, and fashion designers Mary Quant and Dame Vivienne Westwood are just a few of the famous people who have trained at arts institutions in the English capital. Whether you have a passion for painting or an obsession with sculpture, these are the London art schools to have on your radar.
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Royal College of Art

This prestigious postgraduate university specialises in art and design innovation, with 18 primary subject areas across four different schools and several centres. It’s best known for its historic campus in Kensington, near Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall (where its graduate ceremonies take place), while it also has sizeable sites in Battersea and White City. Notable alumni include artists David Hockney and Tracey Emin, as well as design innovators James Dyson and Thomas Heatherwick.

Royal Academy Schools

Part of the Royal Academy of Arts, founded in 1768, the privately run Royal Academy Schools places emphasis on carefully selected students. With only 17 pupils chosen each year, it offers a free three-year postgraduate programme with added bursaries for producing new work. Unsurprisingly, the school provides enviably large studio spaces situated within the Royal Academy itself and calls upon its own Royal Academicians and school alumni to contribute to an impressive programme of teaching and debate.

Slade School of Fine Art

In the late 19th century, Felix Slade opened this groundbreaking school to elevate art education to the same level as other humanities subjects while offering equal access to both men and women. The school has since educated some of Britain’s greatest artists, including modernists such as Sir Stanley Spencer, Dora Carrington and Ben Nicholson. In more recent history, contemporary artists such as Bruce McLean and Phyllida Barlow have taught some of the school’s programmes, educating a new generation of artists.

Goldsmiths

This south London college is arguably best known for incubating the Young British Artists (YBAs) – the UK’s most radical art group in recent memory. Many of the key members who graduated in the late 1980s, including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Sam Taylor-Johnson, have previously auctioned off work through Christie’s to raise funds for the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, which was designed by the Turner Prize-winning collective Assemble.

Chelsea College of Arts

Although it takes its name from the original Manresa Road campus, Chelsea College of Arts now sits inside a former military hospital in Pimlico, just opposite Tate Britain. The school originally taught trade professions but now offers courses on everything from fine arts to curating and graphic design. Notable alumni include Elisabeth Frink and Edward Burra, while celebrated sculptor Henry Moore, whose Two Piece Reclining Figure No 1 was bought by the college in the 1950s and remains on-site, taught here.

Wimbledon School of Arts

This South West London school focusses on the arts of film, theatre and television. It’s known for its specialist workshops and on-site theatre, and it also offers more sizeable studio spaces than its urban counterparts, thanks to Wimbledon’s suburban location. The school has nurtured many successful contemporary artists, including Yinka Shonibare, Peter Doig and Tony Cragg.

Camberwell College of Arts

Along with its neighbour, the South London Gallery, Camberwell College of Arts forms a creative hub on Peckham Road. It offers several established undergraduate courses, including painting, illustration, graphic design, sculpture and photography, as well as an extensive MA programme. It struggled with space constraints for several years before a host of new buildings were unveiled, including larger studio spaces, on-site student accommodation, a dedicated art gallery and a lecture theatre.

City and Guilds of London Art School

This independent non-profit institution in Kennington has a strong emphasis on intensive programming, with students expected to dedicate five days a week to on-site study. The school began with strong ties to Britain’s industry in the mid-1800s, including pottery magnate Henry Doulton, who gave students the opportunity to work in his studios. It was also actively involved in regeneration after World War II, founding restoration and carving courses to help rebuild the city’s architecture and monuments destroyed by the Blitz. Today, the Historic Carving Postgraduate Diploma is the only remaining course in the country that offers such a high level of training.

London College of Communication

This college isn’t in the most scenic of London areas, being in a tower block on Elephant and Castle’s roundabout. It’s a different story inside, though. The college hosts the extensive Stanley Kubrick Archive, and it nurtures a creative environment across a variety of arts courses. It was previously known as London College of Printing (which accounts for its sizeable screen-printing and bookbinding studios), while the new name reflects its media courses across design, photography, journalism and advertising. It was here that Jefferson Hack and Rankin founded Dazed (formerly Dazed and Confused) magazine, with more recent graduates including innovative photographer Juno Calypso.

Central Saint Martins

Students at Central Saint Martins are in good company – the world-renowned college’s alumni are some of the best-known names in the art and fashion worlds. Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost, stage designer Es Devlin and fashion designers Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Giles Deacon studied here. The fashion programme is particularly well regarded and allows students to specialise in everything from knitwear and womenswear to fashion journalism. If you don’t want to commit to a full degree, the college also offers various highly regarded short and summer courses.

Kingston University

The studios and workshops at Kingston University’s Kingston School of Art come highly recommended – Dr Helen Charman of the V&A Museum called it “a hugely impressive and inspirational, world-class design facility abuzz with creative energy and technical verve”. Spread across three campuses, the school offers a wide range of creative courses, including architecture, art, design, music, dance and drama. The riverside Knights Park campus near the Kingston upon Thames town centre is particularly beautiful; it underwent a £12m refurbishment in 2012. The college also runs the Stanley Picker Gallery and Dorich House Museum, allowing students to gain valuable practical experience in the arts.

Ravensbourne University London

While established in 1959, Ravensbourne is one of the UK’s newest universities, having gained university status in 2018, and it prides itself on offering students practical, vocational courses in a wide range of creative industries, from fashion and graphic design to animation and sound design. According to the university, an impressive 90 percent of graduates go on to work or further study in their chosen field. The state-of-the-art building in North Greenwich is another highlight. Clad in over 28,000 shining tiles and designed by Farshid Moussavi from the acclaimed Foreign Office Architects, it features a variety of workspaces, high-tech creative suites, technology hubs, design studios and even a £16m, high-definition digital broadcast facility.
Mandi Keighran contributed additional reporting.

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