Art Careers Job, Education, and Salary Information for Creative Professionals

This guide was written by

MoneyGeek Staff

There are more job opportunities for creative professionals than ever before and being able to earn a living doing something you’re passion about is priceless. However, embarking on an art career can feel a bit daunting with so many traditional and nontraditional options at your disposal. The guide explores the various types of art jobs available, education requirements needed to enter those professions, and provides information on potential salaries. Find out how – and where – you can put your art skills to good use, whether its in the art world or an entirely different industry.

There are more job opportunities for creative professionals than ever before and being able to earn a living doing something you’re passion about is priceless. However, embarking on an art career can feel a bit daunting with so many traditional and nontraditional options at your disposal. The guide explores the various types of art jobs available, education requirements needed to enter those professions, and provides information on potential salaries. Find out how – and where – you can put your art skills to good use, whether its in the art world or an entirely different industry.

Jobs in the Art Industry

Advances in technology and business have greatly expanded the kinds of career opportunities available to people with art degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for art and design workers will increase as games, movies, television, and mobile applications require animation and visual effects. On top of that, websites are now a necessity, making the demand for visual designers even greater.

Traditional Fine Art careers have also evolved. Art museums have adopted virtual practices, and many graduate and undergraduate programs offer courses that teach creative applications for digital technologies.

So, whether your gift is teaching art to kindergartners or designing graphics for iPhone apps, there is a place for you in today’s job market. The key is finding the art career that is right for you and your skillset. Examples of creative job opportunities are featured below:

Art Director

From magazines to product packaging to video games, an art director ensures that all of the moving pieces in the visual design process come together. This requires overseeing the work of anyone associated with the design process, including graphic designers, copywriters, photographers, and illustrators.

Career opportunities for art directors are available in a variety of creative fields, such as advertising, animation, marketing, fashion, film, publishing, theater, television, and video production.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 2%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree in a subject related to art or design; however, most new graduates will not assume a Director level title immediately out of college. Most will need to gain a few years of experience as a designer before achieving the Art Director title.

Graphic Designer

There are various job scenarios for graphic designers. Many are employed or contracted by businesses to create original designs for promotional and commercial use. Example projects include company logos, marketing and advertising materials, and website layouts. Designers are also brought in to develop visuals for innovative media like video games and animated film.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 1%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related field; designers should build and maintain a professional portfolio showcasing their best works.

Interior Designer

Interior Designers make residential, commercial, and industrial spaces functional and fashionable. Essential to their creative expertise is making design choices (color, lighting, furnishings) that complement the structural requirements of a room.

Interior Designers can seek employment with architectural, engineering, or interior design firms, while others may choose to work independently. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2014, one out of four were self-employed.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 4%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree with a concentration on interior design. Interior designers should have a professional portfolio of their projects to demonstrate experience and originality.

Multimedia Artists and Animator

Visual effects in media entertainment have never looked more sophisticated. Aspiring multimedia artists and animators can play an important role in the innovative, and sometimes interactive, storytelling we see in television, films, video games, commercials, and cartoons.

This career path is ideal for designers interested in rendering two– and three–dimensional images and learning the latest digital and animation technologies. Those who are interested can seek employment opportunities with gaming and film production companies.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 6%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree in fine art, computer graphics, animation, or a related field.

Photographer

Photographers can build successful careers through various commercial opportunities. Portraits that document milestones, such as wedding engagements and newborn arrivals, are gaining popularity among couples and families. Also, businesses and tech companies hire professional photographers to take corporate headshots, as well original images for websites and other promotion-related materials.

Careers in photography span other fields as well including science, sports, and journalism. Some artists complete entire collections of original images to be sold on stock photography websites.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 3%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A bachelor’s degree is required for photojournalists, industrial, and scientific photographers. Postsecondary education is not typically required for portrait photographers, although related classes are recommended.

Art, Drama, and Music Teachers (Postsecondary)

A career in teaching can be rewarding for those who consider art to be a viable learning vehicle. According to a 2013 study from the National Art Education Association, art education has a profound influence on youth behavioral, cognitive, and social development. Whether through painting, sculpture, or theatre, you can help students grow, explore, and problem solve through creative engagement.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 9% to 13%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A master’s degree in a related art field is required for postsecondary teaching roles.

Art Therapist

Imagine applying your creative faculties toward improving a person’s well being. Art therapy uses visual art practices (painting, drawing, sculpture) as a form of counseling to help patients address an array of health conditions. According the American Art Therapy Association, it is an effective treatment for people experiencing developmental, medical, educational, and social or psychological impairment.

Art therapists can find employment opportunities in many settings including hospitals, wellness centers, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practice, and similar clinical and community settings.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 9% to 13%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Master’s or post master’s degree in art therapy. Some states require a license to practice, which requires passing the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) exam.

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Technicians

A significant amount of work goes into to the presentation and preservation of art and artifacts. Archivists appraise and catalogue permanent records and historical documents. Curators are responsible for organizing exhibitions for permanent and traveling collections. Museum technicians help to preserve and restore the objects and documents belonging to the collections. These opportunities are ideal for people who enjoy research and are interested in working behind of the scenes in the museum and gallery space.

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 7%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    A master’s degree related to the position’s field is usually required for archivist, curator, and conservator positions. Museum technicians must earn a bachelor’s degree. Intern and volunteer experience in archives and museums is encouraged.

Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes
  • Median Annual Salary: $64,200

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 2% to 4%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree or some college education is typically required.

Commercial and Industrial Designers
  • Median Annual Salary: $64,620

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 2%

  • Education and Training:

    Most entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree; a portfolio with examples of design projects is encouraged.

Fashion Designers
  • Median Annual Salary: $64,030

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 3%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fashion design or fashion merchandising.

Music Therapists
  • Median Annual Salary: $44,000

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 9% to 13%

  • Education and Training:

    The American Music Therapy Association states that a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy is required from one of over 70 American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved college and university programs, and students are required to complete 1200 hours of clinical training. Graduates pursuing professional practice must complete the national board certification exam to obtain the credential MT-BC (Music Therapist – Board Certified).

Producers and Directors
  • Median Annual Salary: $69,100

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 9%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree and several years of experience in the entertainment industry, such as film, TV, or theater production, cinematography, or related occupations.

Set and Exhibit Designers
  • Median Annual Salary: $49,810

  • JOB OUTLOOK (2014 to 2024): 5% to 8%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree in set design, scenic design, theater, or another relevant field. Some experience in museum and gallery exhibit preparation is preferred.

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, and the Occupational Information Network

Salary Trends for Artists

Salaries for art careers will vary based on field of concentration, levels of experience, education, and geographic location. To give you an idea of what you could potentially earn in your field, the table below lists various art-related occupations and their respective salary trends:

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

Determining Whether an Art Career is Right for You

While today’s job market has made more room for artists, the art world still remains a highly competitive environment. Before you consider pursing a career in art, you have to ask yourself if you want to make your passion your profession, and if you’re willing to work very hard to make things happen. Some art professions, particularly though in fine arts, can be an unforgiving, insecure, and unpredictable. You will need to be comfortable with an untraditional career path that may include periods of uncertainty and must be able to handle criticism from the peers, professors, and professionals you collaborate with along the way.

The bottom line is that people who are driven by creativity and want to make it in the art world often have a very strong work ethic to carve their own career path. If that sounds exhilarating, an art career may be right for you.

Being a professional artist requires more than creative skills, and these skills will vary depending on the type of art career you want to pursue. Below is a list of some common skills that most artists should have:

Required and Preferred Skills for Creative Types

Collaboration

Many art-related professions are collaborative in nature. Whether you’re filming a documentary, or teaching senior citizens how to Papier-mâché, it’s important to be able to work well with diverse groups and personality types.

Communication

Since many areas of art deal with conceptual subject matters and projects, it’s important to be able to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively.

Originality

Creative projects succeed when everyone brings their own unique talents to the table. Those who pursue a career in art should be able to come up with new and unusual ideas, and be brave enough to share them.

Organization

Cultivating a solid work ethic is essential for creative types, particularly for prioritizing tasks, and staying within deadlines. Your clients and collaborators will need to rely on you to deliver your work on time.

Every creative profession requires its own set of tools and technology. The following table provides a list of software platforms commonly used throughout many artistic disciplines:

Desktop publishing software

Commonly used by graphic designers, publishing software enables people to create high-quality page layouts for any kind of document – books, menus, signs, etc. (Ex: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe FrameMaker, Pages by Apple, Microsoft Publisher, QuarkXPress).

Graphics or photo imaging software

Anyone working with photos and graphics in art will likely use some kind of graphics software to design and manipulate visual images. (Ex: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe ImageReady, Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya.)

Web platform development software and applications

Website creation tools are available to accommodate a range of competencies. Some are more sophisticated and favored by professional web developers (Adobe Dreamweaver, Drupal), while others come with built-in templates that are easy for non-professionals to customize (Squarespace, WordPress).

Video creation and editing software

The use of video in art and business has increased greatly in recent years. Professional editors will use special software to edit sound, add special effects, and re-sequencing clips. (Ex: Adobe AfterEffects, Apple Final Cut Pro, Apple iMovie, MAXON CINEMA 4D software.)

Education Requirements

Most art careers require at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in art or a niche area of art, while more specialized careers may require a master’s degree. Because art is a very broad field, there are several different degree paths for aspiring artists. The following are descriptions of popular choices at the undergraduate and graduate levels:

Undergraduate Degrees – Three to Four Years

Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA)

Through coursework and studio experiences, a BFA helps artists develop the creative and technical skills needed to jumpstart an art career. Students are usually required to choose a concentration area such as photography, sculpture, graphic design, studio art, or painting, drawing, and printmaking. At the end of the year, students assemble a portfolio of their work that can be used to showcase their skills and knowledge to potential employers and also learn best business practices for professional artists in important matters such as income tax, contracts, and insurance.

Bachelor of Arts in Art

The Bachelor of Arts in Art degree is a liberal arts degree that offers a broader study than the BFA, while still covering concepts and skills that are the foundation for becoming a professional artist, designer, or art educator. In addition to general education coursework, sample courses include Art History, Critical Writing in Art, Studio Art, Printmaking, and Landmarks in World Art. Students may also be required to complete a senior portfolio of their work to demonstrate mastery of the concepts they’ve learned throughout the program

Graduate Degrees – Two to Three Years

Master of Fine Arts in Art

An MFA consists of advanced independent studio work, coursework, and a final thesis project. Programs are designed to help students gain mastery in every aspect of fine art, from materials to execution, so they are able to exhibit their work in the professional art world and understand their work in relation to historical and contemporary context. The final thesis project is typically an exhibition to help the student move from the studio to the public. Students take everything they’ve learned throughout the program and put together a carefully curated exhibit of their work for the public to view and critique.

MFAs are also offered in other art areas such film, photography, studio art, and theatre/performing arts, to name a few.

Master of Arts in Art History

An MA in Art History offers an intense study of art, but from a scholarly approach. These programs are mostly course and researched based and often result in the completion of a thesis or dissertation to help prepare students for either doctoral level studies or careers in art galleries, museums, or art education. Students pursue a mix of seminars, electives, and core coursework in topics such as Art Theory and Criticism, Art History: Images and Meaning, Art History Methods, and Research Applications.

Art Certificates

If you are looking to start a new art career or enhance current skills, many four-year and community colleges offer a range of art-related certificates. Certificate programs can build on existing skills to help you in your current artistic career or they can help you quickly learn the basic skills necessary to make a career charge and move into an entry-level role within the art world. UC Berkeley Extension, for example, offers certificate programs in Interior Design and Interior Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Graphic Design. City College of San Francisco also offers specialized programs such as the Certificate of Accomplishment in Portrait Lighting.

Concentrations

Many colleges and art institutes offer concentration areas at the MFA level. Below are a few samples of MFA concentration topics and programs.

Directing Concentration

This art concentration allows students to experiment with all aspects of theatre directing in real world contexts. They’re given the opportunity to work with playwrights on new scripts and collaborate with various artists (actors, set designers) on stage productions.

Printmaking

In this area, aspiring printmakers experiment with traditional and contemporary practices of printmaking: etching, lithography, screen-printing, monoprinting, photo-transfer processes, block printing, book arts, papermaking, and computer based imaging.

Metalsmithing and Jewelry

Art students in this specialty area spend the majority of the program in the studio learning how to manipulate metal into attractive jewelry. Some colleges also teach students the skills needed to sell their works in galleries, shops, museums, and art fairs.

Characteristic of most MFA programs, the above examples typically require students to complete a creative project in the final year of the program, with some also requiring a written thesis. They may also offset studio work with group seminars and various courses to give students conceptual and historical contexts for their craft.

Exams, Certifications, and other Credentials

Most careers in art do not entail specialized certifications for employment. However, there are few art-related areas that will require additional certifications:

Architects

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree or higher in architecture, aspiring architects must pass the Architect Registration Examination in order to be fully licensed.

Teachers

Special licensing for Art, Music and Drama teachers may be required, however, requirements vary from state to state.

Therapists

Art therapists must pass the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) exam; music therapist must pass the national board certification exam to obtain the credential MT-BC (Music Therapist – Board Certified). Both forms of therapy require a master’s degree or higher in the related field.

Places of Employment

Depending on your medium, your creative talent may work well in many different work environments. The following offers a selection of possible places of employment for professional artists.

Museums, galleries, arts-related organizations

Arts organizations and institutions provide a variety of employment opportunities for people with art degrees. The range of job titles appeal to many levels of experience and areas of interest, such as art education, art administration, curatorial work, graphic design, and digital media.

For new grads, working in the museum and gallery space is a great way to work your way up in the art world, allowing you to gain practical experience and build professional relationships in your field.

Online publishing companies

Most of today’s content is consumed online and from various screen sizes. With the growth of e-books, online magazines, and newspapers, the need for graphic designers and desktop publishing experts has never been higher.

Also, news is now a 24-hour industry. Sites like The Huffington Post seem to add new sections everyday to keep up with the amount of content being produced. Creative professionals keep these sites up and running with eye-catching visuals.

Startup companies

New technology companies are popping up everyday and are growing at unbelievable rates. Graphic designers are often hired to work on design logos, product branding, marketing collateral, and website design, to give a few examples. Creative types typically do well in the startup environment where out-of-the-box problem solving is a must.

For designers just starting out, working for a startup company can be a great way to exercise skills and build your professional portfolio. Startup environments are typically fast-paced and force you to work within tight deadlines, which means in addition to flexing your creative muscles you will also learn other valuable skills that can easily translate to other work environments, such as time management, organization, adaptability, and project management.

Your home office or studio

You can choose to forgo more traditional avenues of employment and work for yourself instead. In fact, a lot of companies these days prefer working with freelancers on a contract or project basis to avoid the overhead that comes with full-time employees. By going solo, you can expand your opportunities and your portfolio by seeking out different kinds of projects and clients to work with. For instance, photographers can earn a living from commercial projects while running a fine art business on the side.

However, maintaining steady work as a freelancer can be challenging. Continue to build and nurture your professional relationships, and consider joining organizations that support your field of interest.

Searching for Art Jobs

There are number of resources available to help you search for job opportunities based on your art specialty, education, and location. Examples include:

  • Americans for the Arts

    This is a nation-wide nonprofit arts organization that is committed to supporting and promoting the arts. Job seekers can set up a free profile with the site’s job bank and search for positions based on keywords and geography.

  • California Arts Council

    CAC is a state arts agency that increases public access to the arts. CAC’s website provides various arts-focused positions throughout California.

  • National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture

    NAMAC is a nonprofit association that supports independent film, video, audio and online/multimedia arts. The site offers a job bank of positions related to these disciplines.

  • The Creative Group

    TCG is a creative staffing division of Robert Half. Sample titles from their searchable database include graphic designer, web production artist, creative director.

  • Upwork

    Upwork connects clients with freelance professionals, such as designers and artists, from all over the world. Clients post projects and artists are paid once all deliverables are approved.

Art Internships

Internships are strongly recommended for anyone who wants to work in the art industry. Programs are available for nearly every creative discipline from fashion to animation to arts education. Undergraduate programs usually recommend that students seek internship opportunities, while most graduate and doctoral programs make them a requirement for graduation.

Why pursue an internship?

Art internships give you the chance to complement your education with practical experience and to explore different art-related career opportunities. They also allow you to meet and learn directly from professionals in a real world environment.

What kinds of Internships are available?

Art internship options will vary depending on your area of focus; however, programs are usually offered through university art departments, museums and other art institutions, arts organizations, and businesses. Below are examples of the many types of internships available to art students and new grads:

2D Concept Artist/Zynga

Location: San Francisco, CA; San Diego, CA; Austin, TX

Zynga is a developer of popular social games. The company’s 2D concept artist internship program invites students of illustration, entertainment design or visual development to help design and create the look and usability of a video game.

Cartographer, Editor, Graphic or Interactive Designer/Central Intelligence Agency

Location: Washington, DC metropolitan area

The CIA offers a 90-day internship to undergrads in graphic or interactive design. Working directly with CIA officers, designers create a variety of visual solutions for the agency from concept to production.

Costume & Textiles Internship – Collections Management/ Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Location: Los Angeles, CA

LACMA’s year-round collections management program teaches the delicate art of caring for and cataloguing large collections of costumes and textiles under the guidance of the Senior Collections Administrator. This program is ideal for post-graduate and graduate students of costume studies, material culture, museum studies, art history, or library science.

Intern/Southern Exposure

Location: San Francisco, CA

Southern Exposure is a nonprofit arts organization and art space devoted to supporting visual artists. The organization offers an array of internships that touch on the many aspects of running a gallery including archiving, education, fundraising, and curating. Places like Southern Exposure are good for people who are interested in gaining firsthand experience in nonprofit arts-environments.

Video Production Intern /University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Pacific Film Archive

Location: Berkeley, CA

BAM/PFA offers video production internships led by the museum’s digital media team. By learning all aspects of video production–from filming to distribution–interns will learn how digital media helps to further the museum’s educational mission.

Find the internship that’s right for you

It’s important to find the right opportunity and environment that will help you to explore and grow your talents. You can start by asking your professors, department heads, and peers for recommendations. You can also search online for local or nationwide institutions and organizations. There are also a number of databases sources, such as Internships.com, that allow you to research postings by field and location, paid or unpaid, and full time or part time.

Professional Associations & Organizations

Professional groups associated with your creative field can offer valuable resources to help further your career. They also provide a direct channel to a community of your peers.

Groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some will also require membership dues. You can search for national, state, and local professional groups to join. Here are a few examples of the various types of arts-based organizations:

American Association of Museums

AAM is a non-profit organization that advocates for and offers professional support to every type of museum including art, history, science, and zoos–and the range of individuals these organizations employ.

Professional Photographers of America (PPA)

Founded and led by professional photographers, PPA’s mission is to nurture careers of photographers with business and educational resources that include workshops and certification opportunities.

National Art Education Association

The NAEA advocates funding for arts education programs, and aim to advance the professional growth of arts educators–from Pre-K and beyond– with an array of services from mentoring programs to networking conferences.

American Institute of Graphic Arts

AIGA is professional design organization serving 25,000 members from all areas of communication design. With 70 chapters nationwide, professional resources are available to designers on local and nationwide levels.

San Francisco Women Artists

SFWA is an example of a local nonprofit arts organization. This membership-based group puts on juried exhibitions every month that feature artwork from Bay Area women artists. An example of SFWA’s membership benefits include discounts for art classes and free admission to many museums.