Fine Art at the Ruskin offered a unique balance between history & theory and studio practice, as well as the opportunity to study anatomy. The course structure was fundamental to my choice. I love the balance between learning about the history of visual culture, and then relating this to my own work. There’s a lot of emphasis on finding relationships between all aspects of the course and that’s really important to developing a confident and personal studio practice.
My best experience? Anatomy! We had the opportunity to visit the medicine department in second term to dissect human cadavers. It's not for everyone but definitely an interesting experience…
The reasons we have for studying Art are all different. At school I was an all-rounder, but with a particular skill in Maths. I found the framework for it too rigid - nothing contradicted, once I did a sheet of problems my work finished. Studio work never ends, and continually contradicts itself. Some view Art as an expressive extension of philosophy, and I’d be inclined to agree. Its questions run on infinitesimally small and immeasurably large scales. As an artist, you have to investigate, interrogate and command your practice with relentless ambition. Like any other world-class course, the Ruskin takes an open approach to contemporary art, but it also supports it with a rigorous theoretical and technical package of support. It’s the synergy between these that I love the most. My best experience was in summer term, when we had anatomy lessons sat in the shade of a tree in the botanical gardens. I’ve had many 'prospectus moments' in Oxford, but I think that topped the lot.
The first year, for me, was really useful as a way of introducing you to the school's resources as well as having the opportunity to experiment with lots of different ways of working. Having already done a Foundation course before starting, I was quite relieved to find that the course wasn't too structured around projects set by tutors, but instead, you were given the freedom to follow your own interests and strengthen your ideas through weekly tutorials and group critiques. Because The Ruskin is so separate from my college, it can sometimes feel as though I’m living a double life. But, at the same time, this has made me realise that this environment is extremely unique, and that, rather than being in an art school exclusively devoted to art and design, there is the advantage to being in amongst other students who are studying a wide range of different subjects across the university.
One of the most exciting moments for me was being involved in an OVADA (Oxford Visual Arts Development Agency) exhibition in my first-year. The process of installing my work in an old warehouse; taking it out of the studio and into the public space was a great learning experience. Fine Art is purely investigative and relies entirely on your own skills of motivation. Those who do Fine Art know that it is not simply a doss subject (though others like to convince us that it otherwise is). It’s about studying something entirely devoted to generating new ideas, and contemporary visual thought, which, for me, is extremely exciting.
Fine Art is taught at the Ruskin School of Art, which has two studios where all tutorials and seminars take place. The students work alongside each other in collaboration, so the first year aims to introduce students to each other, to the resources of the school and to the staff at the Ruskin. Students engage in group criticism and are assigned a personal tutor for more comment on their work. Over the second and third year, students continue to study art history and also produce an extended essay, a final exhibition and a supporting portfolio of work.
In your first year, you have the opportunity to study Human Anatomy, and weekly visits are made to the medics’ dissection rooms to make drawings and learn more about the human body. Also, studying at Oxford means that you have the advantage of having the university’s libraries at your fingertips – not to mention access to Modern Art Oxford and the Ashmolean Museum, which the Ruskin has strong links with. Finally, whereas going to art school usually means you just mix with other art students, Ruskin students are also members of the colleges, so they are part of the wider student body.
Read: The Culture of Spontaneity, Daniel Belgrad - a well explained development of Art during the 20th century, specifically postwar avant-garde.
See: Exhibitions! Understanding what’s happening in the Art world will help you delve into debates much more confidently!
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.