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How to Become an Artist: Career Roadmap

In this lesson, you'll learn how to become an artist, including the educational experience that can help you enter and work in an art-related field. You'll also find out how much artists typically earn in a year. View article »

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  • 0:02 Artists: An Overview
  • 0:35 Career Information
  • 2:03 Step 1: Develop Art Skills
  • 2:59 Step 2: Earn a Degree
  • 4:22 Step 3: Develop a Portfolio

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Video Transcript

Artists: An Overview

Degree Level Associate's, bachelor's, master's, and some doctorates available
Degree Field Art
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, and manual dexterity; basic computer editing and/or graphics skills and other technical skills depending on medium (such as printing presses, kilns, sculpting tools, pottery wheels, cameras and/or other machines and equipment); communication skills and self-promotion or marketing useful
Salary $45,080 (2015 median for craft and fine artists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Artists, also called fine artists or visual artists, are people who create unique works from their imagination. Artists typically specialize in a specific medium, such as painting, drawing, sculpting, photography, or graphic design. Artists may be self-employed or work for a wide range of employers including schools, art centers, magazines, museums, or public relations companies, depending on their area of specialization and experience.

A degree in art is not required to work as an artist, but having one can expand career opportunities.Degree programs can provide aspiring artists with the chance to develop their skills while working alongside professionals. Working hours for artists vary widely; some may be able to produce their work and sell it in a short amount of time, while others require days, weeks, or even months to finish a piece. Exposure to some hazardous materials (i.e. polyurethane or varnish) is likely, so artists must take some safety precautions. Artists often have other careers and pursue their art part-time to stay afloat financially.

Career Information

Creativity and manual dexterity are key to pursing a career as an artist. Depending on the medium, artists may also benefit from having basic computer and graphics skills or knowing how to work with cameras, kilns, pottery wheels, printing presses, sculpting tools, and/or other equipment. Good communication, marketing, and promotional skills may also prove useful.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2015, craft and fine artists earned a median annual salary of $45,080 in a field that is expected to grow by just 2% between 2014-2024.

Let's take a look at some of the steps involved in becoming an artist.

Step 1: Develop Art Skills

When starting as an artist, it's important to practice as much as possible, experiment with a variety of media, and study examples of art. Books on basic, intermediate, and advanced techniques in many art forms can be found at bookstores and libraries to aid in practice. Instructional materials can also be found online, sometimes at no cost. Art colleges typically require a portfolio review in their admissions requirements, so it's essential that aspiring artists be able to demonstrate an understanding of basic art techniques and concepts.

Aspiring artists can take classes at local art and community centers. These classes can be beneficial in helping refine and develop artistic skills without the costs associated with college. Classes can also serve as a place to receive constructive criticism and portfolio assistance when applying for college.

Step 2: Earn a Degree

Fine artists usually don't need a college degree, but they can benefit from the experience and opportunities for professional development available in college. College art programs can also provide students with access to equipment and materials they may not have otherwise, such as printing presses or kilns. Some art schools are career-focused; others incorporate studio art classes into a liberal-arts curriculum. If an artist plans to be an art teacher or art director, higher education may be required. Fine arts programs are available at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's levels and, more rarely, at the doctoral level.

Success Tips:

  • Participate in an internship. Internships provide students with the chance to expand on the skills they learn in a classroom and gain valuable first-hand experience working in the field. Internships can also help artists network and form relationships that can be beneficial in the future. For example, an internship at an art gallery could later lead to that same gallery showcasing a student's artwork.
  • Take business and marketing courses. Since artists are often self-employed, training in business and marketing can help them promote and manage their work after graduation. If an artist plans to sell art directly to the public, these classes could be especially beneficial.

Step 3: Develop a Portfolio

As in most creative fields, a fine or visual artist is expected to develop a portfolio that demonstrates his/her capabilities to potential clients or employers. The purpose of a portfolio is to highlight the artist's best work, display a unique style, and show the direction in which the artist is working. Artists should have both hard copies and digital copies of their portfolios available.


Let's quickly go over what we have discussed. While not required to work as an artist, completion of a degree program can provide aspiring professionals with the chance to develop skills, use new equipment, and work alongside professionals. As of May 2015, artists earned a median annual salary of $45,080.

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