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February 4, 2016updated 26 Jul 2021 3:23pm

Best art schools in the world

By Spear's


Author: Peter Matthews

When choosing an art school, should you go on reputation? What about the inspirational tutors and professors? Perhaps the electric atmosphere of creative collaboration is key? Or should you simply consider the iconic alumni each school has produced?

Here, Spear’s takes a look at some of the leading art schools internationally – from those right at the forefront of contemporary art across modern media to others renowned for developing more traditional skills such as painting, sculpture and printmaking.

Whether you are an art collector or a young budding creative, certain names in the world of art education will undoubtedly crop up throughout your lifetime. It may be your dream to follow in the footsteps of Damien Hirst and attend Goldsmiths in London – the breeding ground of the Young British Artists. Or maybe you’d like to study animation at the world-class Walt Disney-founded California Institute of the Arts.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to where your passion lies. Different institutions are renowned in different fields – from graphic design to fashion, filmmaking to music and art curation to art therapy. Crucially though, none are renowned for everything.

Tokyo University of the Arts, for example, offers world-class training in traditional oil painting. It has nurtured legendary artists such as Tsuguharu Foujita and Takashi Murakami. Meanwhile, The Städel School in Frankfurt am Main is one of the most dynamic leaders in experimental Contemporary art. And when it comes to studying the arts at the PhD level, there’s practically no better option than the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University Helsinki. It has produced some of the world’s top scholars in art, design, media and architecture.

Of course many in the art world would – quite rightly – argue that a degree or qualification is completely unnecessary to achieve greatness. Painter Frida Kahlo was self-taught, similar to the iconic US photographer Ansel Adams, who was partially home-schooled. However, the names of famous artists with no formal training are few and far between. And an arts education offers more than just a chance to develop innate skills, knowledge and craftsmanship.

Training at a prestigious art school also gives students invaluable opportunities to collaborate with like-minded talents. The name of a well-respected institution can also provide a foot in the door for both galleries and collectors.

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Read on to discover some of the best art schools from across the globe.

The Slade School of Fine Art, UCL

The Slade School of Fine Art, UCL

With a focus on research and studio-based practice, Slade has been at the cutting edge of art ever since its inception in 1871. Part of University College London, The Slade offers an exclusive intake of approximately 270 students. It allows them to study painting, sculpture and fine art media from undergraduate right up to PhD level.

Students can also participate in international exchange programmes with other renowned art schools including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Germany’s Stadelschüle.

Visual artist Tacita Dean, sculptor Antony Gormley and the late filmmaker Derek Jarman are just a few of the notable names who have studied at Slade. Many alumni have also forged careers as leading academics and researchers in the field of fine art.

Goldsmiths, University of London

A constituent college of the University of London, Goldsmiths has produced some of British Contemporary art’s most famous figures.

Originally a technical college founded in 1891 by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the university was the breeding ground for many of the late Eighties and Nineties’ Young British Artists. Alumni include Sarah Lucas, Michael Landy and Damien Hirst – reportedly the UK’s richest living artist. Conceptual artist Michael Craig-Martin, a tutor at Goldsmiths during this period, significantly influenced the budding YBA generation.

With an atmosphere of unbridled creativity and laying claim to over 20 Turner Prize nominees, Goldsmiths also has a world-famous music department. Alumni include 2013 Mercury Prize winner James Blake, composer Adrian Sutton and members of Britpop band Blur.

The Städel School, Frankfurt

The Stadel School, Frankfurt

Offering degrees in fine art, architecture and curatorial studies, the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main has a rich history dating back to 1817.

Currently, at the forefront of contemporary art, the world-famous school boasts a diverse student body. Over 60 per cent of students – as well as many of its professors – hail from abroad.

Established in 1987, the academy’s exhibition space Portikus has become a leading international centre for experimental art. It has shown artists’ work from all over the world with over 180 exhibitions to date.

Internationally renowned guest professors, external lecturers and visiting tutors are another aspect of vibrant student life at The Städel School. Guests for this year make up a diverse roster including French filmmaker Michel Auder, philosopher Ray Brassier and science fiction writer Mark von Schlegell.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago


Located in ‘The Loop’ in downtown Chicago, SAIC has been described by Columbia University’s National Arts Journalism survey as ‘the most influential art school’ in the US.

The institute had humble beginnings. In 1866, local artists founded the Chicago Academy of Design. Classes took place in rented rooms, and funding came solely from member dues and patron donations.

Nowadays, the ultra-modern institute offers a wide selection of courses including fashion design, filmmaking and architecture. It also covers more traditional disciplines such as painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture.

Famous alumni who have attended the university throughout history include filmmaker Orson Welles, humorist David Sedaris and artist Jeff Koons.

The School of Visual Arts, New York

The School of Visual Arts, New York

First established in 1947 as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, New York’s School of Visual Art began offering degrees in 1972.

Consistently rated as one of the best US art schools, it has two prime Manhattan addresses. SVA also has three gallery spaces for over 50 exhibitions a year from both students and professional artists.

It currently conducts 32 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Students can pursue everything from fine art, graphic design, photography and filmmaking to art criticism and art education.

Significant SVA graduates include artists Keith Haring, Elizabeth Peyton and Kenny Scharf, director Bryan Singer, photographer Lorna Simpson and the designer Genevieve Gorder.

California Institute of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts

Founded by Walt Disney in 1961, ‘CalArts’ – as it is fondly known by staff and students – has acquired the nickname ‘the Harvard Business School of Animation’.

It was the first US educational institution to grant degrees in both the visual and performing arts. Today, it offers an even wider selection of programmes within its schools of art, critical studies, dance, film, music and theatre.

With cross-pollination between different fields as its defining philosophy, its impressive roster of graduates includes some of the biggest names in animation. One notable example is Rob Minkoff, director of The Lion King and Stuart Little.

Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design

Consistently one of the highest-rated US art schools, RISD was first established in 1877.

Based in Providence, Rhode Island, its name comes from its original mission to ‘apply the principles of art’ to textile and jewellery production during the Industrial Revolution.

The school offers almost twenty undergraduate and graduate programs in fine arts, architecture, design and art education. Illustration and graphic design are among its most popular majors.

Notable alumni include Seth MacFarlane, creator of the animated series Family Guy and director of the 2012 box-office hit Ted.

LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore

LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore

A partner institution of Goldsmiths in London, LASALLE has become one of the leading art institutions in Asia since its foundation three decades ago.

The Singapore-based college offers diplomas, graduate and postgraduate degrees in disciplines including fine arts, design, film, media arts, fashion, theatre and dance.

The institution’s philosophy is to reflect ‘the collaborative and interactive nature’ of contemporary art practice. This forward-thinking approach has made it the first in Asia to provide numerous programmes. Among these are an MA in Art Therapy and the first MA in Asian Art History that focuses on Contemporary art.

LASALLE’s campus includes theatres, studios and ensemble spaces to accommodate a broad spectrum of artistic needs. Throughout the year, the university invites respected artists and designers to lecture on campus. Visitors to the college over the years have included artists Frank Stella and Terence O’Connell, film producer Lord David Puttnam, theatre director Robert Wilson and fashion designer Mark Eley.

Tokyo University of the Arts, Tokyo

Tokyo University of the Arts is one of the most prestigious locations in the world for the study of art and music. It boasts a fine art department that allows for training in oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, design and architecture.

In the 1940s, Tokyo School of Fine Arts and Tokyo Music School merged to create the university. However, the establishment of the separate original institutions dates back to 1887. Thus, it is one of the oldest remaining art schools in the country today.

The university places a strong emphasis on its relationships with other universities and educational institutes in East Asia and beyond. Previous exchanges have taken place with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Royal Academy of Music in London and the University of Sydney.

Many iconic figures have attended the university down through the years. World-famous artists such as Tsuguharu Foujita and Takashi Murakami as well as the Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto are among their number.

School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Helsinki

School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Helsinki

In 2010, the country’s oldest art school TaiK merged with Helsinki University of Technology to form the Helsinki School of Economics Finland Aalto University.

The university’s school of arts, design and architecture is world-renowned as a leader in the field of arts, media and design research. It offers a diverse mix of bachelor’s, masters and PhD programmes.

Media Centre Lume – the national audiovisual media research centre – is central to the university, placing Aalto right at the forefront of the modern dichotomy between art and technology.

Notably, previous alumni include legendary Finnish designers such as Tapio Wirkkala and Kaj Franck.

More from Spear’s

10 of the World’s Must-See Museum

Top Recommended Art Advisers – Spear’s 500

Top Twenty UK Senior Schools

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