There are no fewer than 246 major art schools in the South. These schools are accredited and ranked by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Their ranking reflects the number of Master’s Degrees or higher awarded each year as well as offering Bachelor’s of Fine Arts.
In this list the South consists of the following states: Alabama, Arkansas. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. These states have many cultural touchstones in common and instructors from these states often take their education within each other’s respective borders. For this reason, Arkansas is included as Southern despite its connection with the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Within this size-able list of schools there are good programs, impressive programs, niche programs, and perfunctory ones. Prospective students have many issues and questions to keep in mind. Certain programs are limited even though they are located within Universities with huge student bodies and large endowments. Other schools may be surprisingly excellent because of dedicated instructors on less renowned or underfunded campuses. There are other quirks to where you can find good art schools; sometimes a small community will embrace a school’s gallery and sometimes newly hired professors will revitalize an art program.
Attention to drawing and painting concentrations within an art program is a traditional measure of excellence. Contrast those schools with ones that emphasize only photography or graphic design and the weakness becomes evident. This is not an indictment on photography or graphic design, but it reveals that these programs have a more limited budget and their focus on technical and vocational education. Furthermore, it is likely that schools that focus on small graphic design, photography, and art education majors have relatively young programs.
Another sign of a weak art department is situations where an visual art department is coupled with a theater, dance or music departments. In these cases resources are shared such as lecture halls, classrooms, and attention. When a department head comes from a music or theater background there is necessarily a compromise in the visual arts. This is not to say that there should not be a cross pollination of different arts. Ohio State University is a positive example of visual arts and theater arts combing well and Wake Forest University’s visual arts program is productive with a dance instructor at it’s head. However, there many are cases where a school will divide resources between these overlapping interests rather than invest properly in each of the arts, visual, dance, music, and theater.
The real measure greatness comes from facilities and faculty. The quality and amount of space devoted to an art program is objective enough. There should be lecture space, ample studios, a current visual resource library, and an active art gallery. Now add to these the digital footprint of the art program. There should be a current exhibition of student and faculty work online, there should be current computer lab, and there should be a fluency among instructors within the program. The quality and knowledge-ability of instructors is really the most important issue. This is a simple as checking where instructors earned their degrees and have exhibited work. This is also as complicated as finding artists whose work inspires you and who can foster your artistic growth. The unfortunate truth is that some great artists aren't particularly interested or qualified to teach, even if they are professors. Teaching art is complex because it requires a vast knowledge of the past, a handle on the present art world, and an individual style. To find all of this, its important to visit schools in person and ask many questions.
Some Useful Questions to Consider:
How many faculty members are on staff within the art department? And, what are their backgrounds?
How many areas of concentration are offered within the program? And, is there adequate support for your intended concentration?
Does the campus have a gallery and museum?
What is the level of community support? Will you have opportunities to show your work or present research?
Will the surrounding colleges or schools add to art programs overall experience?