A student in the studio at the Royal College of Art
As one of the world’s creative capitals it is hardly surprising that London plays hosts to multiple world-renowned art schools. With each institution boasting impressive alumni lists as well as specialist practitioners on staff, it is no wonder that students travel across the globe to join these varied and inspiring courses. So whether you have a passion for painting or an obsession with sculpture, consult our definitive guide and start on the road to an artistic education.
Royal College of Art
A student in the studio at the Royal College of Art
This prestigious postgraduate university specialises in art and design innovation, with 24 courses across six different schools. It is best known for its historic campus in Kensington, just moments from Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall (where its graduate ceremonies are held), but it also has a sizeable site in Battersea that will be soon be joined by a new White City location, where the BBC headquarters used to stand. Notable alumni include artists David Hockney and Tracey Emin, as well as design innovators James Dyson and Thomas Heatherwick.
Installation view of Aniko Kuikka's work at the RA Schools Show
This privately run school was founded in 1797 and still places emphasis on carefully selected students. With a total of only 17 pupils per year group it is able to offer completely free three-year postgraduate programme with added bursaries for producing new work. Unsurprisingly, the school calls upon its own Royal Academicians and school alumni to offer an impressive programme of teaching and debate, as well as offering enviably large studio spaces situated within the Royal Academy itself.
Known as much for its fashion as its fine art courses, Central St Martins is the result of an amalgamation between Central School of Art (founded by critic John Ruskin) and St Martins School of Art, which gained fame for its pioneering sculpture department during the 50s, 60s and 70s. After the colleges combined the new arts institution was known for its disparate sites covering the breadth of London, the nucleus of which was the Charing Cross Road campus where the Sex Pistols performed their first gig. It has since moved to a huge converted grain store on the newly revamped Granary Square on King’s Cross, where you are likely to spot the next Alexander McQueen strolling in to class.
Felix Slade opened this groundbreaking school in an effort to elevate art education to the same level as that of other humanities subjects. From the outset it offered equal access to both men and women – something of a pioneering act for the period. Since then the school has educated some of Britain’s greatest artists, including modernists such as Stanley Spencer, Dora Carrington and Ben Nicholson. In more recent history it has counted revered contemporary artists such as Bruce Maclean and Phyllida Barlow among its staff, who have educated a new generation of exceptional practitioners.
A student puts the finishing touches to her degree show at Goldsmiths
The south London college is arguably best known for incubating the UK’s most radical art group in recent memory– the YBAs. Many of the key members graduated in the late 1980s, including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Sam Taylor-Johnson. These three artists (among others) recently auctioned off work through Christie’s to raise funds for the college’s new gallery, which has been designed by the Turner Prize-winning collective Assemble. This is the second major architectural unveiling in recent years, following a purpose-built block that houses the art department that was unveiled in 2005. The aluminium-clad building was designed by Will Alsop and is identifiable due to an enormous sculpture akin to a giant scrawl, which sits on the tower’s terrace.
Chelsea College of Arts BA Interior and Spatial Design student Karen Von Esse's graduate show
Although it takes its name from the original Manresa Road campus, Chelsea College of Art is now situated in a former military hospital in Pimlico, just across the road from 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 Elizabeth Frink, Edward Burra and Henry Moore, whose sculpture ‘Two Piece Reclining Figure 1’ was bought by the college in the 1950s and remains on site to this day.
This south west London school focuses in the visual and theatrical arts. It is known for its specialist workshops and on site theatre, as well as being able to offer more sizeable studio spaces than its urban counterparts, accompanied by the areas ample green space. The school has nurtured an array of successful contemporary artists including Yinka Shonibare, Peter Doig and Tony Cragg.
Camberwell College of Arts 3D Design work by Ines Alberty
With it’s neighbour the South London Art Gallery, Camberwell College of Arts forms a creative hub on Peckham Road. It offers established undergraduate courses across painting, illustration, graphic design and sculpture (to name a few) as well as an extensive MA programme. Itl has struggled with space constraints for several years, which will be alleviated by a host of new buildings for this academic year. Improvements will include more and larger studio spaces, on site student accommodation, a new dedicated art gallery and a lecture theatre.
This independent not-for-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 Two, founding restoration and carving courses that served to 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 training to such a high level.
LCC Interaction Design Arts student Sara Tavasolian's degree show
Although it might not inhabit the most scenic location (in a tower block right on Elephant and Castle’s gargantuan roundabout) this college still 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, but the new name reflects its media courses across photography, journalism and advertising. It was here that Jefferson Hack and Rankin founded Dazed and Confused magazine, with more recent graduates including innovative photographer Juno Calypso. The collegealso hosts the Stanley Kubrick Archive in an enormous 800 metre-long facility, which is fittingly hidden behind a mysterious, frosted glass doorway.