They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. But you know what’s worth a million words? Seeing that famous piece of art you studied from a textbook in real life! Studying abroad gives you this unique opportunity to take your learning outside of the classroom. Brownie points if you use your extensive knowledge to convince people that you’re a museum tour guide in any of these art meccas!
Art majors study the underlying relationship that exists between different cultures and how it influences local art. Part historian and part cultural critic, art students help define art by placing it in its proper historical context. By examining the layers that social, geographic, and political forces have influenced on a piece of art, the values and institutions of that culture are revealed, allowing you to know your host country and its people more intimately.
These art programs abroad are the best you can find. Whether you choose the route of formalized programs or art schools abroad, studying art abroad means your multicultural fluency extends from brush to canvas.
1. Paris, France
Home to well over 100 museums of varying sizes and specialties, Paris will never get old for the art historian. The Louvre, the most iconic Parisian museum as well as the most visited museum in the world, boasts 35,000 objects (including the Mona Lisa) and beautiful gardens to boot. Satisfying exploration of the Louvre requires more than just a quick trip to Paris, but studying art abroad in the city will allow you to return to all of the city’s museums time and time again.
Though the masters never get old, Paris’ contemporary art scene can be found in the burgeoning Belleville district and its various galleries.
2. Florence, Italy
As the birthplace of many artistic masters such as Caravaggio, Raphael, da Vinci, and Michelangelo, Italy and in particular Florence, is a fantastic place for art history students to experience while studying abroad. The Uffizi gallery holds many of famous and less well-known works, including paintings, sketches, and sculptures.
Florence is also infamous for its Frescoes, found in many churches. Some of the best art schools abroad can be found in Italy, and Florence is a great place to start your search!
3. Prague, Czech Republic
As a country with a recent turbulent past of communism and revolution, modern, postmodern, and other contemporary art are quite popular styles in this young and vibrant country. In addition to magnificent architecture (and castles galore), Prague offers intimate galleries, where you can view local pieces to analyze the relationship between the Czech culture you are now experiencing and the resulting art.
To leave your own mark on the culture of Prague, grab some paint and check out the Lennon Wall: a Beatles inspired graffiti hub that originated as protest against the oppressive Communist government and continues to be a symbol of peace and love. Studying art in the Czech Republic would be a one-of-a-kind experience!
4. London, England
The beauty of having a Royal Family is that they often like to spend their money procuring art, which can then be put on display for all to see. And boy, has England’s monarchy gotten good at this! The Royal Collection contains over 7,000 pieces including Dutch, English, French, Italian, and Flemish art. Included in that impressive list is 600 da Vinci drawings.
From the Tate Modern to the British Museum to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London’s numerous galleries offer Picasso’s, Van Gogh’s, Rembrandt’s, and Caravaggio's among many, many others. Art students of all focuses can find a piece to make them swoon.
5. Beijing, China
Chinese art, though less studied than its European counterpart, is a rich genre that spans centuries. In addition to paintings, textiles, porcelain, and ceramics are quite popular, as are images of landscapes, flowers, and birds.
Studying art in China means exposure to an entirely different way of understanding contemporary art.
The 798 Art Zone (also called the Dashanzi Art District) is the place to go in order to get a feel for Beijing’s current art scene. There you can find old warehouses converted into contemporary art galleries, unique cafes, bookstores, and if you’re lucky, an art festival (if you go around May or October).
6. Tokyo, Japan
Traditional Japanese art often depicts serene, natural scenes, though modern Japanese aesthetics value a sort of “cuteness”, as is evident in much of their pop culture. While studying abroad in Japan, students must check out the Mori Art Museum (which is conveniently located on the top floor of a 54 story building, observation deck included) and The National Museum of Modern Art, both housing extensive collections.
Though these are the biggest names, they are far from your only option--lots of smaller galleries and private collections will also pique your interest as an art student in Japan. A great fallback, after all, is always manga!
7. Santiago, Chile
Though South America isn’t known for museums like many western European countries, there is a wealth of interesting art for you to uncover by studying in Santiago. Traditional South American art is often religious, and comes in many mediums like tapestries, wood carvings, paintings, and pottery. The oldest museum in South America, the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, is a must-see, as it offers a chance to view lots of traditional Latin American art.
Street art is thriving in Santiago, particularly in Bellavista and Valparaiso. Roaming the streets in these areas is a feast for the eyes, with colorful graffiti (called muralismo) covering the walls.
8. Melbourne, Australia
Though Melbourne might not be the first city that comes to mind when you mention art, you’d be surprised at the unique and numerous works coming from Aussie artists. Aboriginal Australian art, in particular, is known for rock painting and engraving, desert landscapes, earthy tones, and the use of natural tools, canvases, and paints. Notable museums in Melbourne include the Melbourne Museum and the National Gallery of Victoria.
Melbourne also has extensive street art, as well as a whole graffiti subculture. Studying art in Melbourne is an ideal fit for students wanting a pulse on the modern international art scene.
9. Cape Town, South Africa
The art of South Africa is known for vibrant colors and political ties, often dealing with the subject matters of race, inequality, animal conservation, and other aspects prevalent in daily life. The South African National Art Gallery has a diverse collection of both African and various Europeans pieces for you to explore. South Africa is a unique art study abroad destination due to this culmination of local culture and colonialism often reflected in pieces.
In addition to more recent South African and foreign art, you can also catch a glimpse of the historic Bushman rock paintings, which serve as windows into the cultures and lives of the earliest dwellers in Southern Africa.
10. Barcelona, Spain
You’ve got your museum-work cut out of you if you study abroad in Barcelona (in a good way, of course). With numerous artsy spots to hit up including MACBA (Barcelona Contemporary Art Museum), the Picasso Museum, the Miro Foundation, and MNAC (Catalonia’s National Art Museum), you’ll have no shortage of weekend activities.
Street art is also popular in Barca, with famous taggers having their signature images and signatures scattered throughout the city. In fact, some store owners even hire these artists to paint their storefronts! Show your stuff and you may find your work on a street mural when studying art in Spain.