Few cities in the world scream “art and design” quite like London, England.
One of the oldest cities in the world, London has been a hub for the art world since the days of the renaissance, when Sir Nathanial Bacon and Sir Anthony van Dyck brought principles of expression and realism to the British Isles.
Today, London remains an excellent place for artists of every type of media to refine their craft. Art schools in the city have everything that an aspiring artist needs to hone their craft, from studio space to a collection of inspiring peers and teachers.
Many of the schools have histories that reach back into the 19th century, giving students a well-worn path of greatness to follow.
But while they work in the shadow of giants, modern London art students have more opportunities to blaze their own path.
Today’s schools take into account contemporary concerns, which not only allows them to speak to the current political moment but to also create interdisciplinary projects. It’s not uncommon to see philosophy, history, and even the hard sciences influencing artworks.
As so many different approaches to art become accepted, schools develop their unique personalities. That’s good news for potential students, as they can find the school that’s best for them.
This list is a great place to start, giving you a tour of the art school offerings in The Big Smoke.
Kingston School of Art
Founded in 1899 as the Kingston School of Science and Art, the Kingston School of Art focuses on architecture, fashion, and the visual arts.
As of 2018, the school has added to its roster of courses classes in the humanities and the social sciences, thereby giving its students a wider view of the possibilities of their art.
By adding these classes, Kingston Art builds on the foundations that made it the home of legends such as George Fisher Gilmour. Gilmour studied at Kingston until 1934, after which he went on to an impressive career in visual arts, film, and playwriting. One of the Firemen Artists – a group of visual artists who also serve as volunteer members of the fire brigade – Gilmour has exhibited his work at the Royal Society of British Artists, the New English Art Club, the Royal Academy of Arts, and more.
Today, students at Kingston Art can take advantage of the school’s many network connections. Working alongside institutions such as the Tate Museum and the Institute for Contemporary Arts, Kingston Art allows its students to follow in the footsteps of its famous alumni.
City & Guilds of London Art School
When the Lambeth School of Art opened its doors in 1854, it was a government-sponsored art school. But thanks to the leadership of its administration and the contributions of its alumni, the school has transformed into the City & Guilds of London Art School, one of the nation’s best art institutions.
The school’s stellar reputation comes in part from the outstanding artists who have served on its faculty.
James Butler taught sculpture and drawing at City & Guilds while working as a professional stone carver. Through his teaching, students learned the techniques and approaches that earned Butler an appointment to be a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2009.
In addition to its faculty, City & Guilds counts MBE recipients among its alumni as well. Architectural artist Stephen Wiltshire earned his MBE in 2006 after graduating from City & Guilds in 1998. Wiltshire is known for his drawings of cityscapes and famous landmarks, which have earned him worldwide recognition.
University of Westminster Centre for Research and Education in Art and Media
Housed within the University of Westminster, the Centre for Research and Education in Art and Media (CREAM) emphasizes practice-based research in every aspect of art, from critical, theoretical, and historical perspectives.
To achieve its goals, CREAM hosts programs for academic and general audiences. These events range from installments such as “Fragments of Epic Memory” and “Conversations Around Photography” to scholarly presentations.
CREAM offers a doctoral programme dedicated to research in issues concerning art and design, photography, film, cultural studies, music, art and technology, and ceramics. The program connects scholarly research to artistic expression, further developing the way humans make and interact with the world around them.
Current students include filmmakers who have screened their work at renowned art gallery Tate Britain, researchers doing artistic investigations into the legacy of the Oslo Peace Accords, and curators fostering relations between Korea and Indonesia.
As these examples demonstrate, CREAM has feet in both the world of the arts and in the world of academia, bringing together expression and analysis.
Royal College of Art
Located in the heart of London, the Royal College of Art traces its roots to 1837, when it was started as the Government School of Design. Since 1967, the Royal College has had a royal charter to grant degrees, which allowed it to become one of the nation’s best art schools.
The school offers several degrees, including Masters of Arts, Research, and Philosophy, as well as a Phd. The departments in the school include those for architecture, arts & humanities, communication, and design.
According to topuniversities.com, the Royal College is the best design school in the world. The site praises the school for its academic reputation and its very high research output, making it the defining institution for design concerns.
The College seeks to firm up that reputation with initiatives such as the GenerationRCA programme. This program seeks to combine arts and sciences, with a focus on topics such as environmental architecture and digital direction.
Goldsmiths, University of London
As part of the University of London, Goldsmiths focuses on art and design, the humanities, and the social sciences. It especially serves mature students, as over half of its student body is over 21, many of whom are postgraduate students.
By serving non-traditional and mature students, Goldsmiths emphasizes practical skill and accessibility. That ethos can be seen in the Goldsmiths Research Online (GRO), an open-access database of research and publications from academics at the school. The GRO helps the average user engage in scholarly conversations, thereby bringing more perspectives to bear on the work.
The school also houses the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, a free public gallery serving the communities in South London. Past exhibitions have showcased the work of Eugenio Dittborn, the films of Mohamed Bourouissa, and sculptures from Roland Carline.
Each of these examples creates works that speak to the average person, helping them see how they make meaning of the objects and situations they encounter in everyday life.
London Metropolitan University School of Art, Architecture and Design
The School of Art, Architecture, and Design at London Metropolitan University covers all aspects of art and expression. Their art offerings run the gamut from creative writing and photography to fine art and theatre performance.
In addition to studying textiles and fashion, students in the 3D design program work on interiors and visual communication.
With this wide range of approaches, the School emphasizes student-driven learning. Studio culture is at the forefront of the program, in which students collaborate with one another and with faculty when developing their projects.
They learn how to display their work as a presentation and how to give and respond to criticism, emphasizing the larger community.
Additionally, the School serves a wider range of artists with its short courses program. These courses are usually provided in the summer and can be taken by anyone, not just those enrolled in a degree program at London Metropolitan University.
They cover topics such as Modern and Traditional Upholstery and Irish Writers in London, giving more people access to first-class instructors.
University College London Slade School of Fine Art
The Slade School of Fine Art at University College London has long been a home for some of the greatest artists in the world.
Artists who have studied at Slade include Nanjing, China native Zhi Lin. After earning his MFA from Slade, Lin created Five Capital Punishments in China, a series of five paintings that deal with violence in the artist’s home country.
The work was instrumental in earning Lin worldwide acclaim, paving the way for his current position as associate professor of art at the University of Washington in the United States.
Colombian-born artist Claudia Cuesta studied under Rachel Whiteread, Marcus Taylor, and Melanie Counsell at Slade, gaining the skills she would need for world-famous exhibitions.
Her installation Relic of Time was shown at Canada’s Toronto Power Plant from 1987-1988. Today, Cuesta’s work can be found in public display in cities across British Columbia.
These artists are just a few of the world-changers who started at Slade, building on the ideas they learned from the school’s excellent faculty.
University of the Arts London
University of the Arts London came into being in 1986 as a collaboration between Chelsea School of Art, the London College of Printing, the Central School of Art and Design; Saint Martin’s School of Art, the College for Distributive Trades, the London College of Fashion, and Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. Together, these schools formed a unique school devoted to arts, fashion, performing arts, and design.
Today, many of these founding colleges still exist as constituent colleges under the auspices of the University of the Arts London.
The Chelsea College of Arts provides advanced training in fine art and design, as well as scholarly degrees. Chelsea features three on-site exhibition spaces for artists working at the school, including London’s largest open air gallery.
The Wimbledon College of Arts has trained some of the country’s most impressive artists. Alumni include artist Hurvin Anderson, who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2017, and Hollywood production designer Sarah Greenwood.
With the combined resources of all of these schools, the University of the Arts London is in a unique place to foster the artistic life of all Londoners.