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Some notes on the "best" schools for fine art

kaelynkaelyn 140 replies6 threads Junior Member
edited October 2013 in Visual Arts and Film Majors
So I've done quite a bit of "research" into the best fine art schools around. Eventually I decided that I should probably compile a list and share my findings. The primary criteria of assessment for me was simply the frequency of college alumni in "major" contemporary galleries, exhibitions and collections (eg. Gagosian, Zwirner, Hauser and Wirth, Gladstone etc) i.e imo the best art schools were those that produced the greatest proportion or frequency of "successful" artists. I don't claim anything here to be authoritative as I recognize that there may be contention about who is a "successful" artist and what is a "major" gallery/ exhibition, however, I do think that anyone, making even the most half-hearted attempt to follow the international art scene, will agree with my findings. I should also mention that graduate degrees hold much more sway in an artist's career than their undergrad.

The Giants:

Breaking news, most of the schools that seem to produce the highest rates of gallery placement (both in the US and Europe) aren't art schools to begin with. Really it's no surprise when you take into consideration the fact that the contemporary art world continues to push for intellectually rigorous work.

Consistent Performers

School of The Art Institute of Chicago
School of The Museum of Fine Arts
Art Center

SAIC and SMFA pop-up frequently as undergrad schools with a few doing their MFA's there while Art Center alumni are fairly popular in LA galleries but don't seem to travel much.

The Light Weight Powerhouse

Cooper Union.

Cooper students seem to end up everywhere from provincial galleries in small town USA to the infamous, high profile collection of Charles Saatchi. This is even more remarkable considering Cooper only offers an undergraduate program in fine arts which, furthermore, only produces around 60 graduates.

Alot of artists also attend the

Whitney Independent Study Program
and The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture

at some point in time after their Bachelor's. They're not really degree programs per se but whatever they're providing seems to make a difference.

The disappointments


As disappointment implies, these schools had a lot less showing than I'd expected. RISD was still on the table but only really seemed to be performing with undergrads. It was less than what I expected from a school that is often touted as "the best art school in the USA". SVA on the other hand managed to put out a fair number of photographers but not much else. MICA and Pratt alum were virtually nonexistent.


If you have strong intentions of becoming a professional artist, you should probably skip the US altogether and head straight to Europe where the Brits and the Germans run the game. It's well known that London and Berlin have long surpassed NYC and LA as the international art capitals. A cursory examination will quickly reveal that while there is an abundance of European artists in US galleries there is a dearth of American artists in their European counterparts.

The Major British Players:

Chelsea College of Art
The Slade School of Art
Royal College of Art

Many popular artists however do not come from any of these schools mentioned. These schools were simply the ones with the higher frequencies of placement.
edited October 2013
46 replies
Post edited by kaelyn on
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Replies to: Some notes on the "best" schools for fine art

  • RainingAgainRainingAgain 689 replies10 threads Member
    About SVA, MICA, etc...there are the fine arts and the design arts. I think SVA and the like have well-earned reputations in the design fields - which were not the focus of your research.

    However, your research may well be very helpful to those interested in the fine arts. I do not mean to detract from the quality of your investigations and findings.
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  • kaelynkaelyn 140 replies6 threads Junior Member
    On second thought, I really should have put RISD in the consistent producers section. For some reason I had this expectation of RISD being up there with Calarts, Columbia etc
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  • TrinSFTrinSF 1429 replies53 threads Senior Member
    It makes me happy that daughter is really still interested in SAIC as her top choice, and they seem to love her back. I guess we'll see come FA award time, because they'll have to meet 100% of need (or close to it) for her to be able to attend, which is rare for them.

    Daughter mentioned Yale when she came back from SAIC ECP and CSSSA; it seems like some students who have parents with Ivy-only aspirations focus on it as the best compromise. I can't imagine my daughter at Yale, though -- is that terrible?
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  • pandempandem 1230 replies134 threads Senior Member
    Yeah, you should have stated more explicitly that fine arts is different than design arts. Art Center and RISD are top schools in the design field.
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  • kaelynkaelyn 140 replies6 threads Junior Member
    Calarts, Yale, Columbia, Art Center and UCLA seemed to be more popular for their graduate programs while RISD, SMFA, SVA, MICA, SAIC, Cooper etc seemed to be more popular for their Undergrad programs.

    I'll probably give you guys some statistical data when I'm feeling more industrious.
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  • mousegraymousegray 1621 replies21 threads Senior Member
    I guess this is as good a way of quantifying a potential art career as any..

    For what it's worth: The "Giants" are strictly MFA programs. There's no special benefit in going there for an undergrad art education.

    I know successful artists from all the schools you mentioned, except MICA. As in many other fields, the longer you are out of school, the less it matters where you went. You can get a good fine art education at any of these schools, but they do have different areas of focus. If you like to paint still life paintings from life, you will not be happy at Calarts, for example (unless you have constructed a theoretical framework of "the still life").

    I'm curious, what is your interest in all this data?
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  • bears and dogsbears and dogs 3050 replies26 threads- Senior Member
    Then shouldn’t focus here be how to get to brainy school’s MFA program?
    Like, how many of MICA/ Pratt/ RISD undergrad would end up in Yale or UCLA if any.
    Do you even need book/test/ECs/ hook smart for Yale MFA?
    It is an old story but Eva Hesse went my kid’s HS that had little academic classes then to Pratt then to Cooper, then to Yale through summer grant, stayed there to finish BFA but then rejected from UCLA.
    Somehow she is considered mostly as Cooper alum. What about that?
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  • kaelynkaelyn 140 replies6 threads Junior Member
    I spend a lot of time online rummaging through galleries in an attempt to see as much contemporary art as possible. I'm also in the process of starting/resuming college applications so scrutinizing CV's to see where everyone went to school was a natural progression.
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  • banjoby1232003banjoby1232003 8 replies1 threads New Member
    I am a community college student planning to transfer to RISD, MICA, SMFA, Cooper Union etc. Firstly, I received my G.E.D. and am wondering whether this will affect my acceptance. Secondly, I have a very good portfolio and have completed three highly extensive art shows that can be viewed by through Lucas Bostrom | MySpace, but am actually wondering about the credit requirements for transfer in a general sense. Is there anyone who has any insight into these questions?
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  • 4R134R13 22 replies1 threads New Member
    if you meant what will transfer as course credit, it depends on the college/university.

    Most will give credit for courses taken at accredited schools that pertain to your major. That means if there's a class you took at another school that isn't in the curriculum of the school you're planning on attending, chances are you won't get credit. Most of the time general education and basic studio classes are accepted. Some schools won't give you credit for advanced classes even if you've taken them. I had some friends apply after finishing community college and only received credit for classes up to 2nd year level. After the 2nd year, courses become a little more specialized and each school usually want to teach it their way.

    also worth noting is that I believe all courses you want credit for need to be at least a "C" or higher. Along with that, some colleges may ask to see work from each course you've taken. This is mainly so administrators and the like can look at it and judge whether or not the work is worthy of credit since some schools may offer courses that may be considered below standard for others. I only know a couple schools that do this but just wanted to mention it.
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  • chair2chair2 618 replies54 threads Member
    does anyone have any knowledge about Yale's UNDERGRAD art major? i have read up on it and it's supposed to be a great one with the liberal arts college on one hand and graduate resources on the other.

    also, i'm considering contacting the Yale art DUS (director of undergraduate studies) for advice on portfolios and some general questions. is that a bad idea?
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  • bears and dogsbears and dogs 3050 replies26 threads- Senior Member
    there were some posts on "post your portfolio!" thread page 5
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  • banjoby1232003banjoby1232003 8 replies1 threads New Member
    Thank you 4R13, the info is very much appreciated.
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  • mousegraymousegray 1621 replies21 threads Senior Member
    I can't speak specifically about Yale but many places that have both BFA and MFA programs have very little interaction between the two. (The same is often true for summer programs and the regular school year.)

    kaelyn, you are very enterprising! I would imagine that if you look at the CV's of artists whose work you like, you might start to see a trend. It would then make sense to focus your research on those schools, especially if the CV is recent.
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  • chair2chair2 618 replies54 threads Member
    oh, bears and dogs, i already read that! i'm so cray cray!! lol.

    mousegray--i don't remember where i read it (i googled "yale undergrad art major," then read nearly everything relevant) but it said something like yale's major was so distinct from others because of BA and MFA programs available. or maybe it was the art department(s) and the liberal arts college on the other side. anyways, i think it's a BA at yale for art, maybe i'm totally mistaken, though. and why is it detrimental to have BFA/MFA in one area? b/c universities usually load their $$$ into the professional schools?
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  • taxguytaxguy 6244 replies385 threads Senior Member
    I do know that SVA has a very strong reputation in animation too. I don't know about pure fine arts graduates,thus, I can't express an opinion on the other schools.
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  • momrathmomrath 5986 replies39 threads Senior Member
    kaelyn, Your research is very interesting and I think valid in as much as connections are paramount in the arts (and just about everything else). If you are talented and/or fortunate enough to get into a program like Yale's MFA and if you perform up their expections, then you are going to be on the fast track to success. One connection leads to another.

    I'm also surprised that Columbia would be in your top tier. Being in New York is unarguably a positive, but I wouldn't think of Columbia as a fine arts destination. Architecture yes. Studio art, no.

    The key here is really getting into these high powered graduate programs and there I think you find a much wider range in undergraduate experience. The European focus has been apparent for several years, but recently the percentage of Asian nationals (not American-Asian) has increased greatly. Bottom line, just like undergraduate programs, the selective MFA programs seek to build a balanced class in demographics and in artistic style and they now consistently draw from a global pool. It's wildly competitive.
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  • loveblueloveblue 425 replies12 threads Member
    momrath, you may help me on this:
    My daughter is senior and we bring her to visited a very strong Chinese art school in Beijing and she like it. Their training is more traditional and I feel and the art program here is more conceptual or modern. I am a little worry about put her in a traditional training program, and then later her MFA choice maybe limited. Do you have any suggestion on this?

    What do you think Yale's undergraduate art program ? I thought Columbia has very strong MFA program and their undergraduate program should be strong.

    Anyone here know more art program of CMU?

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  • momrathmomrath 5986 replies39 threads Senior Member
    loveblue, I'd suggest that you start a separate thread on this so you'll get more responses. Yale and CMU both have excellent undergrad art studio programs. So does Brown. I'm not so familar with Columbia's department. I'd add Williams in the same range academically, but on a smaller scale.

    I think the first question that your daughter needs to answer is does she want to go to an art school or does she want to major in art a "full service" college or university? And secondly what does she eventually want to do with an MFA, teach or make art full time?

    I wouldn't worry yet about traditional vs conceptual. She'll have several years to find her own style -- that's the point of an undergrad education. I would agree that American colleges/universities do encourage more free-ranging creativity and theorizing than do Asian school -- not just in art, but in any field -- but there's a lot of artistic energy coming out of Asia right now.

    If your question is could she get into a pretigious US MFA program with an undergraduate degree from that specific artschool in Beijing, then I think you should ask the Chinese school what their alumni/ae have done after graduation.
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  • mousegraymousegray 1621 replies21 threads Senior Member
    Columbia's MFA program went through a big change about 10 years ago, with a complete turnover of faculty. It seems to be well connected with the NY art world and has a lot of visibility, if this is what you're looking for. Can't speak for the program itself, but being in NY it has its pick of well known artists for faculty.
    why is it detrimental to have BFA/MFA in one area?

    I think you limit your exposure to different ideas by staying in one place for both. Most art students go through changes in medium, style, focus throughout their education (and throughout life). Also, on a practical level, you would meet more people in the field by attending two different schools. As momrath says, connections are paramount. Of course, connections don't go far without talent and hard work.
    The key here is really getting into these high powered graduate programs and there I think you find a much wider range in undergraduate experience.

    Most BA in art programs tend to be fairly traditional. A BFA in an art school will be more varied. Some MFA programs can have a fairly narrow focus though, so it's important to do your research (schools with the word "academy" in their name tend to the traditional). One major difference between graduate and undergraduate is the amount of art theory and criticism involved, which has a big influence on the general discourse.
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