Fine Art
Detail of 'Picture for Jeff' by Jan Kaesbach - a re-staged photograph of a Casper-David Fredrich painting from the National Gallery in Berlin.
(Image credit: Jan Kaesbach).

Fine Art

Fine Art is the making and study of visual art. It educates and prepares students to become artists and to follow other practices that are aligned to the making of art. The curriculum is centred on the individual student’s potential and imagination.


Fine Art at Oxford

The Ruskin School of Art offers a three-year studio-based BFA course in which all its students work alongside each other in collaboratively organised studios. Whereas many fine art courses run in an environment devoted exclusively to art and design, Ruskin students, as members of a collegiate university, have the advantage of contact with their contemporaries on all of Oxford’s other courses.

The Ruskin course aims to develop strong independent points of view and a mature grasp of the range of critical debate surrounding contemporary art and its many international histories. Oxford’s short terms, coupled with the ambitious atmosphere at the Ruskin, suit highly motivated and resourceful students with a good sense of how to organise their time both in and out of Oxford.

The first year of the course is structured to introduce students to each other, to the resources of the School and to all the people involved in teaching and running the Ruskin. The combination of witnessing fellow students at work, group criticism and individual discussion with tutors and visiting artists swiftly develops a strong sense of the diversity of experience and opinion within the School.

The intimate working environment of the School, arranged in two buildings, allows art history, theory and criticism to be treated as integral to the development of studio work. The Ruskin also enjoys a strong and constructive relationship with Modern Art Oxford, and students have full access to the many exceptional University libraries and museums, including the Ashmolean.


Most students aim at becoming professional artists, and this ambition is supported throughout the course. Remember, too, that the education and structure we offer strengthens students’ imagination and knowledge in such a way that other paths may also be pursued. Many graduates subsequently go on to graduate studies in Fine Art, but some also continue in other, related subjects. We maintain good contacts with former students and keenly follow their developing careers. These demonstrate that Ruskin students consistently make substantial contributions in their chosen creative fields. Recent Fine Art graduates include professional artists, critics, writers, teachers and creative directors.

Paul graduated in 1989 and now works as a visual effects artist and filmmaker. He says: ‘I consider my Fine Art studies at Oxford to be absolutely essential to what I do every day as a filmmaker. The studios of the Ruskin School of Art might seem to be very far away from the world of Hollywood and summer tentpole movies, but the knowledge and skills I gained at Oxford come into play every day whether it’s in solving the practicalities of staging the action in a complex shot or in a discussion of the film’s visual storytelling with the director.’

Related Courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider History of Art.

A typical weekly timetable

1st year


Students develop their studio work in discussion with the School’s lecturers, tutors and visiting staff. They are allocated a tutor at the outset, who monitors progress, sets targets and directs them in their studies. Work is regularly presented and discussed at group crits involving staff and students from across the School. Alongside this, workshops and projects designed to introduce a range of techniques and approaches are offered throughout the year. In addition, they attend taught practical classes in drawing and human anatomy as well as lectures, seminars and tutorials in art history. Experimentation is encouraged.


Practical studio-based work, human anatomy;
Three submitted essays;
One written paper in the history and theory of visual culture since 1900

2nd and 3rd years

Years two and three are similar in structure and continue the tutorial system introduced in the first year. All students are required to continue the study of art history and theory and to submit three essays during the course of the second year. In the final term of the second year they agree an extended essay title with their tutor. This essay is submitted at the end of the second term of the final year as part of the Final Examination. Students are expected to establish a strong bond between the interests of the essay and their studio studies.

Assessment (2nd year)

Satisfactory record in all areas of the course

Assessment (3rd year)

A final exhibition and a supporting portfolio of work made during the second and third years;
An extended essay;
One written paper in the history and theory of visual culture

  • A-levels: AAA
  • Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
  • IB: 38 (including core points) with 666 at HL
  • Or any other equivalent (see details of international qualifications) It is highly recommended for candidates to have studied Art to A-level, Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent and to take an Art Foundation course.

Applicants interested in applying for Fine Art who are studying for a BTEC National Extended Diploma (BTEC) will have to submit a portfolio of work, and any offer will require candidates to achieve DDD grades. As the Fine Art degree also includes a substantial history and theory component, BTEC applicants will be expected to have successfully completed a range of modules that include art history.

Please note that because of the practical nature of the Fine Art degree, which also includes a substantial theoretical component, a candidate who has successfully completed the BTEC may be well suited to the content and structure of the degree course at Oxford.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.


Portfolios must be submitted as part of your application by noon on Friday 7 November 2014. There is no prescription for editing a portfolio, but candidates should aim for any range of work which gives a sense of their interests and appetites. Portfolios may contain original works, photographs, slides or digital images of paintings and sculptures, personal notebooks, short videotapes or CDs, drawings, soundworks etc. We value signs of the ability to engage in critical and inventive discussion, but above all we are looking for a strong visual curiosity.

Please note that the University may use the work which you submit to the extent necessary for the conduct of the admission process. The University is not in a position to verify the contents of portfolios, or to make any special arrangements for care, custody or return. The University cannot therefore accept responsibility for any loss or damage.

Interview and practical test 

All candidates, including overseas candidates, who are shortlisted for this course are encouraged to come to Oxford for interview in December. The interview will include a practical test, where candidates are asked to complete two pieces in a variety of media from a number of possible subjects. Candidates themselves do not need to make any special arrangements for the test, as this will be organised for them by the Ruskin.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Fine Art.

Joel, 2nd year

'I was really excited to be somehwere that kept something academic as integral to the fine art process. I really dom't believe that they can be kept apart... I like to get in depth in the concepts and ideas around the creative process.'

Jan, who graduated 2012, on his work, 'Picture for Jeff' (pictured above)

'This work was made as a response to Jeff Wall’s ‘Picture for Women’ (1979) which itself is a photographic recreation of Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’. Whereas Wall’s photograph is portraying the gaze of the male artist onto the model and his control over it, in ‘Picture for Jeff’ there is no difference made between photographer and photographed subject.
The second picture negates the Fernweh (sense of longing for an unknown, faraway place), revealing that the person is not looking and longing for the possibilities the ships in front of her might represent, but is literally re-locating her contemplation on herself. As opposed to Wall’s image where the focus lies in the relationship between the male artist, and Friedrich’s painting where it lies in the unknown, in ‘Picture for Jeff’ the essence of the work seems to lie in the almost self-obsessed (re)presentation of the self.'

Natasha Peel (BFA 2009–2012) and Amba Sayal-Bennett (2009–2012)  were shortlisted for the Saatchi New Sensations 2012 award. Natasha and Amba add to the succession of Ruskin alumni who have reached the top 20 in the last few years including Kira Freije (BFA 2008–11) and Charlie Ogilvie (BFA 2002–5) in 2011, Mimi Norrgren (BFA 2005–2008) in 2010 and Oliver Beer (BFA 2006–2009), the award winner in 2009.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college