Introduction to the BFA
The BFA is a three-year, studio-based course in which students work alongside each other in collaboratively organised studios. It allows students to engage with the diversity of disciplines that shape contemporary art, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, installation, video, sound, performance and other experimental forms. 75% of the course is dedicated to studio practice and 25% to the history & theory of visual culture. The two components of the course are closely integrated, and the historical and theoretical study of art is taught both in the lecture rooms and in the studios.
Students begin from the outset to develop their studio work in discussion with the School’s lecturers, tutors, and visiting staff, and each student is allocated a primary tutor with whom they meet regularly throughout the term. Students are initially encouraged to work across all media and then to develop their own focus and interests during the final two years of the course. Work is regularly presented and discussed at group crits involving staff and students from across the school. Alongside the students’ individual studio work, workshops and projects designed to introduce a range of techniques and approaches are offered throughout the year. In addition, they attend taught practical classes in drawing and human anatomy as well as lectures, seminars and tutorials in art history. Students are encouraged to experiment in their studio practice and, in the case of art history, through debate and essay writing. Examinations take place at the end of the first year (prelims) and third year (finals); the second year provides the longest expanse of time for unfettered experimentation, underpinned by rigorous studio-practice and close tutorial support.
In recognition of the role of drawing as a fundamental tool in all fine art practices, the School holds drawing classes that explore its rich and varied possibilities. These are run during the first year to extend understanding and flexibility, and there is a requirement for a drawing portfolio in the preliminary examination. Human anatomy is also taught in the first year as a drawing course, supported by the Ruskin’s relationship with the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics. Through looking at the structure, form and function of the human body, this part of the course explores issues of identity, biology, dynamics and mortality while helping students to see below the surface of things and to find a visual language to express that knowledge. Anatomy also forms part of the preliminary examination. In Michaelmas and Hilary Terms, there are weekly ‘Basic Workshops’, which are compulsory for first year students. These explore both core skills and specialist topics, ranging from medium-specific basics to sophisticated or unusual techniques. Recent workshops have focussed on studio-lighting and documentation, digital technology for artists, material model-making, the processes involved in underpainting, glazing and grisaille, the use of egg tempera, clay, armature, and plaster casting, welding, artists’ statements, time and process, animation, and narrative in artists’ film. Throughout the year there are also weekly invited Visiting Artists, who come to the School to give a presentation on their work and to meet with students in the studios.
The Ruskin School is distinctive within the University insofar as all the teaching takes place within the department, rather than through the college-based tutorial system. However, each student is provided with a place in college and all tenured academic staff have a college association. The character of the Ruskin is shaped in part by the remarkable cohesion of its student body and the sense of shared endeavour that underpins the wide range of activities that are carried out in and through the School. The group of BFA candidates is intimate: no more than thirty students are admitted per year, and these small numbers facilitate the exchange of ideas amongst and across years, as well as making possible a staff to student ratio this is unbeatable among UK art schools. Various crossover activities are organised with graduate students and research fellows, and students also benefit from relationships formed across other disciplines within their colleges and throughout the University as a whole. Links to the professional art world in the UK and beyond are sustained through the School’s innovative Professional Practice Programme, offsite exhibitions at other venues, close links with the University Museums and Modern Art Oxford, organised trips to London galleries, and the weekly programme of visiting artists.