Become a Visual Artist: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a visual artist. Explore the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you'll need to advance your career in the visual arts.

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  • 0:01 Visual Artists
  • 0:35 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:30 Start Early
  • 2:04 Postsecondary Degree
  • 3:17 Entry-Level Work
  • 3:56 Continuing Education

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Visual Artists

Visual artists communicate stories, ideas, and other information through various visual media, such as paintings, photographs, sculptures, and drawings. Many artists are self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and must secure their own work assignments in an intensely competitive field. Some visual artists spend many hours seated while composing their work. Depending on the art medium being used, protective measures might be required when working with chemicals or materials that produce airborne particles.

Career Skills and Info

Degree Level Varies; bachelor's degree is required for certain jobs, like graphic designer and filmmaker
Degree Field Fine arts
Training Apprenticeships, internships, standalone classes, and workshops
Key Skills Artistic ability; creativity; skills related to a specific medium, such as the use of graphic design and/or video editing software, cameras, or lenses; self-employed artists will need good customer service, marketing, and sales skills
Salary $54,170 (2015 average for craft and fine artists)
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 2% increase (slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Start Early

Visual arts is a broad term that pertains to one or more types of visual media, such as drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, graphic design, textile arts, and filmmaking, to name a few. Starting in high school or even earlier, an aspiring visual artist can develop his or her craft through art classes and self-training. Becoming an artist requires acquiring skills and applying learned methods through consistent practice. Similar to a musician who practices many hours a week to improve performance, visual artists need to regularly create art to achieve mastery.

Step 2: Postsecondary Degree

After finishing high school, aspiring visual artists can enroll in an art school or a college fine arts program, which can help them acquire valuable skills and develop as professionals. Depending on their specific interests and talents, students can choose a concentration such as ceramics or illustration. Entry into certain programs may require a portfolio. Programs differ according to the discipline; training to become a filmmaker, for example, differs greatly from training to become a painter, so a postsecondary program must be chosen carefully. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, although a degree is not a requirement for many types of artists, a bachelor's degree program is often necessary to give them adequate preparation to succeed in this extremely competitive field.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship or an independent study course. Before graduating from an art school or a college program, students can gain valuable industry experience by completing a professional internship. Students can also increase their artistic expertise by pursuing an independent studies course under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Completing both an internship and an independent studies course can help an aspiring visual artist develop his or her art portfolio.

Step 3: Entry-Level Work

Entry-level visual artists may find work in firms that specialize in design, marketing and advertising, publishing, or film production. Many launch into independent careers. Whether working for themselves as freelancers or for companies, many visual artists create a space at home for their studio work. Some artists initially work part-time or full-time in unrelated jobs while continuing to develop their craft and establish themselves as professionals.

Success Tip:

  • Build a portfolio. By performing freelance work on a paid or volunteer basis, visual artists have the opportunity to add professional work to their portfolios. This can prove invaluable when seeking entry-level employment.

Step 4: Continuing Education

Continuing education in the arts allows visual artists to hone their skills. By enrolling in specialized or advanced art classes, visual artists can learn how to combine techniques or explore schools of thought in new and unique ways. With additional education and experience, visual artists may become art directors for print or online publications. Some visual artists choose to obtain teaching certificates and become art teachers.

Let's review. A bachelor's degree in the fine arts may help you acquire the skills you need to become a graphic designer, painter, photographer, sculptor, or other type of visual artist. As of May 2015, the average annual salary for a craft or fine artist was $54,170.

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