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The World's Best Art Schools

Graduating students exhibited their senior projects in painting, sculpture, video, installation, performance and other related media for 2016 thesis projects. This exhibition is sponsored by the School of Art, Media, and Technology and is part of Parsons Festival 2016.
(Phillip Van Nostrand)

Parsons School of Design location New York known for training generations of fashion designers

The Parsons School of Design was founded as a gesture of rebellion in 1896 by the American Impressionist artist William Merritt Chase. It’s now named after its longtime director Frank Alvah Parsons, who established the United States’ first fashion, interior and graphic design programs. The school has trained generations of artists, including Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein. Among its more recent graduates are Bella and Gigi Hadid. Located in Greenwich Village, it’s been part of the new school since 1970. (Since 1921, Parsons has also had a satellite campus in Paris.) Big-name designers with Parsons Degrees include Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi and Narciso Rodriguez, who once recalled that when he graduated, “the dean at that time said I would never be a designer. Obviously, I didn’t listen.”

Design Academy location Eindhoven, The Netherlands known for its open-minded teaching methods

The Design Academy Eindhoven is famous for its conceptual (as opposed to purely practical) approach to teaching: Students are heavily encouraged to think outside the box. The academy was established right after World War II, and its alumni regularly distinguish themselves at the Salone del Mobile (the Milan furniture fair), in the annual competition organized by the Design Museum in London, and as designers for Ikea. Two graduates — Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, co-founders of the collective Studio Drift — turned heads during Art Basel Miami last year with a flock of 300 bird-like drones flying over the beach; their work is collected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The school has helped put Eindhoven on the map as one of the design capitals of Europe.

School of Art Institute of Chicago location Chicago known for being attached to a great museum

SAIC traces its roots all the way back to 1866, when it was established as the Chicago Academy of Design. It was renamed the Art Institute of Chicago in 1882, and today, it has the largest school-museum campus in the United States. Students benefit greatly from the connection to the Art Institute, a world-class museum with more than 300,000 artworks in its collection, including Seurat’s masterpiece, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” and Grant Wood’s legendary  “American Gothic,” not to mention works by alumnus Georgia O’Keeffe. Courses on offer range from architecture and art history to art therapy and new arts journalism. The school has 3,650 students, a third of them from outside the United States. This year, SAIC teamed up with the University of Chicago to commission the U.S. pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Rhode Island School of Design location Providence, Rhode Island known for a robot giving its 2018 commencement address

RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee” by insiders) is one of the oldest art and design schools in the United States. It was founded in 1877 by a group known as the Centennial Women, who had come together to set up a women-only pavilion at the Centennial Exposition the year before. RISD is consistently ranked as one of the top art schools in the U.S. Graduates have gone on to fame and fortune in a wide range of creative fields: They include the actors Seth MacFarlane and James Franco, the artists Kara Walker and Dale Chihuly, the filmmaker Gus Van Sant and the musician David Byrne. Another alumnus, the Pakistani-American sculptor Huma Bhabha, currently has a rooftop installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (through Oct. 28). And in a sign that the school is moving with the times, a robot named Sophia gave the 2018 commencement address in early June: She is a creation of the RISD graduate David Hanson, founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, which creates robots with human-like characteristics.

Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts location Paris known for training some of France’s finest artists

Flip open a textbook of French art since the Revolution, and you’ll find that most of the big names graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts: from Delacroix and Ingres to Monet, Degas, Renoir and Seurat — not to mention Bonnard, Matisse, and Braque, and more recently, Bernard Buffet, Cesar and Annette Messager. Non-artist alumna include the architect Jean Nouvel and the fashion designers Azzedine Alaia and Paco Rabanne. Besides being a fabled learning institution, the Beaux Arts is a famous Paris landmark, with buildings that date from the 17th to the 19th centuries and spread out over two hectares on the Left Bank of the Seine. Nowadays, the Beaux Arts stills trains students in conventional disciplines such as drawing and theoretical studies, but it offers classes in up-to-the-minute fields such as digital technologies, too.

Royal College of Art location London known for its famous graduates

David Hockney, Tracey Emin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ridley Scott, Peter Blake: these are just a few alumni of the Royal College of Art — Britain’s foremost art school, which also ranks high in international art school rankings, too. Set up in 1837 on the riverside premises of Somerset House, it was then known as the “Government School of Design” and was renamed a century ago. It is now based in two locations: South Kensington and Battersea. The college has just had planning approval for a new Battersea south campus designed by the prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron and backed by a government investment of 54 million pounds, or about $73 million. Not all former students are nostalgic about the place: In an interview published on the school’s own website, Emin recalled that it was “incredibly posh” and made her feel like a misfit; she said she later destroyed every painting she ever made there.

Pratt Institute location New York known for its architecture program

The Pratt Institute in New York is today one of the best-known art, architecture and design schools in America. Former attendees include the actor Robert Redford (who studied painting), the avant-garde stage director Robert Wilson and the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The institute was established in 1887 by an American industrialist named Charles Pratt, who set out to provide affordable education to working men and women. Initially, it had a strong design and engineering focus, later expanding to include other artistic disciplines. The institute recently announced that it had selected the Allied Works Architecture Practice to design a new building on its Brooklyn campus. The new school of art will serve as a headquarters for the Master of Fine Arts and Photography programs, but it will also aim to connect with the broader art world by having exhibition spaces and a large auditorium with public programming.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology location Boston known for its links to science, technology and engineering

MIT’s arts program is distinctive in that its purpose is to build bridges between science and engineering on the one hand, and the visual and performing arts on the other. That makes it one of the most high-tech and cutting-edge arts programs on the planet. MIT has been pioneering from the outset: It set up the U.S.’s very first architecture program in 1865, when it opened up its school of architecture. MIT’s boundary-pushing List Visual Arts Center was founded in 1985. Recent alumnus include the conceptual artist Adam Pendleton, who has exhibited there and is now represented by the Pace Gallery. There have been prominent faculty members, too: the pioneering performance artist Joan Jonas taught for years at List, and the center sponsored her exhibition at the 2015 Venice Biennale (where she represented the U.S.).

Politecnico di Milano location Milan known for training highly employable students

Founded in 1863, the Politecnico di Milano is the oldest university in Milan. It was originally set up purely as an engineering school, with a mere 30 students enrolled in its first year; today, it boasts some 42,000 students. Its engineering school, in particular, has topped Italy’s own national rankings. The Politecnico’s design and architecture schools don’t have a bad track record either: The late, great fashion designer Gianfranco Ferre studied at the Politecnico, as did the Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. A present-day member of faculty — Portuguese-born Eduardo Souto de Moura — just picked up this year’s Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Job prospects for graduates are strong. According to one survey, nearly 95 percent of graduates had found jobs within six months of picking up their diplomas.

University of the Arts London location London known for training Turner Prize winners

University of the Arts London is an umbrella institution that groups six prestige colleges, each with a history of its own — including Central Saint Martins, Chelsea College of Arts, and London College of Fashion. All told, it has more than 18,200 students. Its component schools have trained generations of British and foreign artists and designers, and the statistics are there to prove it: since the Turner Prize was first given out in 1984, more than half of all winners have been alumni or staff of UAL, and nearly half of the 77 members of the Royal Academy of Arts are alumni or present or former staff of UAL. The university is soon to open its new London College of Fashion on the site of the London 2012 Olympic Park in east London — part of a £1.1 billion cultural hub relaunched by the London mayor Sadiq Khan and dubbed “East Bank.”

Kunstakademie Dusseldorf location Dusseldorf known for its photography school

“For our students, only the best,” reads the German slogan inscribed on the entrance stairway of the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf. Established as a drawing school in 1762, the academy broadened its offerings to include painting, sculpture and architecture a decade later, and by the 19th century, it was famous for the Dusseldorf school of landscape painting. Today, it is renowned for its school of photography, where the couple Bernd and Hilla Becher trained prominent photographers, including Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer and Thomas Struth. Other famous alumni include the author Gunter Grass and the artists Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer.

This article appears in the July edition of Modern Painters. 

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