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What they didn’t tell you about studying high school Art

This article aims to provide a clear, unbiased view of what studying a Art at high school is like. It complements our Art Careers resources and aims to help you decide whether a high school Visual Art or Design course is right for you. It is written by recent UK high school graduate, Megan Fatharly, who attended Hitchin Girls’ School, Hertfordshire, England, and contains quotes from many high school Art students around the world.

When I first started studying GCSE Art (a UK Art qualification for 14-16 year olds) it felt daunting, because I was so certain that to be considered ‘good’ I had to draw perfectly, however I soon learnt to develop my own style and enjoy the freedom that the subject allows. You are able to explore a chosen subject matter and experiment with materials to express ideas, whether that be through painting, sculpture or through any other medium

Art is often described as a ‘mickey mouse’ subject or ‘soft option’ by people who have little understanding of the subject. Art has a large practical component; there is the view that it is not intellectually demanding or academic. People may not realise the higher ordering thinking that is required when studying Art to evaluate, analyse and develop artwork and themes and at times produce comprehensive written projects in some areas of study. The subject may be discredited by the media, career advisors and fellow students.

If you are deciding whether to pick a creative subject at a higher level, it is important to realise that Art does not involve a list of facts or content to learn like other subjects. Mark schemes can involve imprecise and vague terminology. Because of this, you may be unclear about what is expected or needed to excel.

This is why I think it is important to look at examples of student work before selecting the subject and at exam board websites, as they often try to explain what is expected. Reading the official syllabus can be a great place to start. This will give guidance in terms of quantity of work required, deadlines and how things should be submitted. It is important to understand key terminology, such as ‘development’. This is how to go from one part of your project to the other to show how your work is progressing and does not appear disjointed. There are some great articles on this website which I used throughout studying Art which show what these words mean.

When viewing artwork on this website, remember that the Student Art Guide features the best work from students around the world. I think it is really important to not feel daunted by this (I know I did) but remember that you will have time to improve and refine your skills over the time you study a creative subject like Art.

The most important thing you can do if you are unsure about what to expect, is talk to your Art teacher. You will get an idea of the workload and the syllabus structure that your school or college follows. They can show you examples of current or past student projects, so you get an idea of the kind of work that people create. Also, talking to older students, although a daunting prospect, is highly beneficial, as they can tell you personally how they feel about it and answer any questions.