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.
The Ruskin School of Art offers a three-year studio-based BFA course in which 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 the staff involved in teaching and running the Ruskin. Students will familiarise themselves with their fellow students’ work, take part in group criticism and engage in intensive dialogue with tutors and visiting artists.
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.
Fine Art Careers
After graduation, most students go on to work in fine art as practising artists, teachers and art writers, or as curators in public and private galleries and for arts councils and organisations. Many also pursue careers in academia, architecture and the film industry.
We maintain close ties with former students and keenly follow their developing careers.
Jack Stanton, who graduated in 2013 and now works as a professional artist, recalls: ‘I think the most important element of the Ruskin is the seriousness with which your work is considered by tutors and fellow students. It is because of this mature reception that students are left with no choice but to develop a strong capacity for self-criticism and an astute awareness of the interpretations their work can induce. The freedom I was given to pursue any creative avenue was initially dizzying – but became thrilling. The Ruskin gave me an invaluable set of mental skills that I employ daily to navigate my own ideas and communicate fruitfully with others in a wide variety of collaborative projects.’
Many Ruskin students have been shortlisted for the prestigious Saatchi New Sensations Award, and two alumni were award winners: Jack Stanton in 2013 and Oliver Beer in 2009. Emily Motto and Melanie Eckersley were amongst the Bloomberg New Contemporaries for 2014 and 2015 respectively. Helen Marten has won the 2016 Turner Prize.
Students interested in this course might also like to consider History of Art.
A typical weekly timetable
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, students attend taught practical classes in drawing and human anatomy as well as lectures, seminars and tutorials in art history. Experimentation is highly encouraged.
Practical studio-based work, human anatomy
|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 first term of the third year they agree an extended essay title with their tutor. This essay is submitted at the end of the second term of the third 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
The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.
- A-levels: AAA
- Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
- IB: 38 (including core points) with 666 at HL
- Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and 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 be required 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.
All candidates for Fine Art are also required to submit a portfolio of work.
Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)
These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2017.
Total annual fees
& Isle of Man)
EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.
Living costs for the academic year starting in 2017 are estimated to be between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.
A full loan is available from the UK government to cover tuition fees for Home (UK) students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your tuition fees up front.
Tuition fee support arrangements for EU students commencing their studies in 2017 have not yet been confirmed by the UK government. Information will be updated on this page as soon as it is announced.
In 2017 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less. This support is available in addition to the government living costs support. See further details.
Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.
Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:
Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford support page.
*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding
Additional Fees and Charges Information for Fine Art
In the first year of the BFA course, students are provided with basic materials such as paint, canvas, cartridge paper, glue, etc. There is no expectation for students to arrive with any additional equipment or materials beyond those they may already possess.
Each student receives a materials grant of £450 from the Ruskin School of Art for each year of the course. Finalists also receive a further materials grant of £275 for their work in the final show. Students in the second and third years of the course are expected to meet any additional costs for materials, applying to their college for support in the first instance. Colleges may also provide support for student projects and travel, including the optional work experience programme for second year students who take part in the Ruskin’s Professional Practice Programme.
Throughout the course, students are able to borrow an extensive selection of equipment on a sign-up basis. In the first week of the first term, all students pay an equipment deposit of £100. The deposit system is to secure against the borrowing of departmental equipment and the deposit is returned to the student at the end of the course. There is also a returnable £10 deposit for the key fob to the Ruskin buildings.
Final year students normally stage a public exhibition of their work following the final examination and they collectively raise funds for this through sponsorship, drawing sales, and other activities.
All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.
Portfolios must be submitted to the Ruskin School of Art by 6pm (UK time) on Friday 4 November 2016. 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. Read more about the submitting a portfolio.
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.
Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Fine Art.
The following list is suggested as a starting point and is not exhaustive and nor does it mean that you must read these.
- Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography by Roland Barthes (Vintage)
- The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent by Thomas Crow (Everyman )
- Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introductions by Julian Stallabrass (Oxford University Press)
- Contemporary Art: World Currents by Terry Smith (Laurence King Publishing)
We strongly encourage all students to attend exhibitions and look at art works as much as possible. Public art galleries like Tate Modern, the Whitechapel, and the Serpentine in London, the Ikon in Birmingham, the Liverpool Tate, the Whitworth in Manchester, the Baltic in Gateshead, the Arnolfini in Bristol, and Tramway in Glasgow are all excellent places to see contemporary art and to find out more about it.
Other excellent resources include:
- the UK-wide exhibition listings in www.newexhibitions.com
- the online edition of the US journal Artforum at artforum.com
- the excellent repository of moving image and sound art, called ubuweb.com
It is also a good idea to look at journals such as:
Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.
Holly, 3rd year
'Unlike most other art courses in the UK, the Ruskin does not require you to specialise in any particular medium. This freedom of this approach really appealed to me and I wanted the chance to determine how my work developed without an academic structure. The anatomy lessons during first year were also a big factor in my decision. I love working with the figure and found it really exciting to spend so much time traditionally drawing the body. As someone who loves reading and writing, the interesting blend of academic and practical that this course offers was perfect for me.'
Emily Motto, who graduated in 2014, on her work, 'An Arena 2015'
This was an installation of structures formed using rising bread (in response to yeast proportions), bronze jesmonite, handmade playdough extrusions, steel mesh, net, copper pipe, silicon, foam, fabric, plastic, prints of online images, polystyrene, tape, wool.
'This work involves structures at various stages of capture; some forms still growing (such as the dough rising through the orange net - centre left of image), and some casts of similar forms made previously.
I love to make playful sculptures that perform and evolve throughout, and beyond, my creation of them – especially in terms of their shape, and the physicality of the unstable materials that I build them from.
Recently I have been working with grids as transformation devices – attempting to contain, tame and control organic material – and I am excited by how they themselves can become malleable in the process.'
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.
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.
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.