Fine Art | University of Oxford
Fine Art
Artist: Evie, graduated 2014
Photographer: greenroomphotography/Kinga Lubowiecka

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.

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 (an exciting and influential contemporary art space) and students have full access to the many exceptional University libraries and museums, including the Ashmolean.


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.

Holly Muir, 2016 BFA graduate, says: ‘Unlike most other art courses in the UK, the Ruskin does not require you to specialise in any particular medium. The freedom of this approach really appealed to me as I wanted the chance to determine how my work developed without an academic structure.  As someone who loves reading and writing, the interesting blend of academic and practical that this course offers was perfect for me.’

Many Ruskin students have won or been shortlisted for several prestigious awards and art prizes. Ruth Spencer Jolly (BFA 2016), Melanie Eckersley (BFA 2015) and Emily Motto (BFA 2014) were amongst the Bloomberg New Contemporaries in their year of graduation. Elizabeth Price (BFA 1988) won the Turner Prize in 2012. Conrad Shawcross (BFA 1999) won the Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture in 2014. In 2016, Helen Marten (BFA 2008) won the Turner Prize and the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture.

Related courses

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

A typical week

Most students' weeks will typically consist of several, or all, of the following: a history and theory lecture and seminar, a group critique of student art work, a one-to-one studio-based tutorial focusing on the individual student's art work, a skills-based workshop, and a talk by a visiting artist or lecturer. Students spend much of their time working in their own studio spaces, where they are supported by specialists in the art-making tools, concepts, ideas and associated techniques available at the Ruskin.

Tutorials are usually 1-2 students and a tutor. Class sizes for group feedback sessions, seminars, and lectures may vary. There would usually be no more than 12 students for feedback sessions and seminars and between 30-40 for lectures.

Most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by staff who are tutors in their subject. Many are leading artists and writers with years of experience in teaching and research. Some teaching may be delivered by postgraduate students who are studying at doctorate level.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

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 critiques 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
Three submitted essays
One written paper in the history and theory of visual culture

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
An extended essay
One written paper in the history and theory of visual culture since 1900

Visit the Fine Art website for more information.


The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved.  (See further information on how we use contextual data.) 

It is highly recommended for candidates to have studied Art at A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent and to take an Art Foundation course.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

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 2019.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)

For more information please refer to our course fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for the academic year starting in 2019 are estimated to be between £1,058 and £1,643 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.

Financial support


A tuition fee loan is available from the UK government to cover course fees in full for Home (UK)/EU students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your course fees up front.

In 2019 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of around £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.

(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

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:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man


Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships 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

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

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.

What are tutors looking for?

All applicants are required to submit a portfolio of their art work. Tutors look for work that goes beyond the mere fulfilment of school curricula. The Ruskin seeks evidence of a breadth of engagement, a sense of purpose and an emerging artistic voice in the way the portfolio is edited. Candidates who are shortlisted are asked to bring a small number of additional recent pieces of their work to discuss during interview.

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Ruskin School of Art website.


Portfolios must be submitted to the Ruskin School of Art by 6pm on Friday 2 November 2018. 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.

Suggested reading

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:

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.


'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, 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), 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.

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

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