Careers for Art Majors: Options and Requirements

Sep 22, 2019

The educational requirements for a career in art vary, but an associate's degree or bachelor's degree may be necessary to enter some career fields and can increase job prospects for those interested in becoming a photographer, graphic designer or art director.

Essential Information

A broad academic field, art can lead to many career possibilities. An art major can pursue such areas as fine arts, art history, graphic arts and visual arts. While multiple career options exist, this article discusses the occupations of photographer, graphic designer and art director. Most of these jobs require a bachelor's degree.

Careers Photographer Graphic Designer Art Director
Required Education Photography classes, Associate's Degree Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree in Art or Design
Other Requirements Bachelor's Degree for all Photojournalist, Industrial & Scientific Photographers Portfolio, Technical Training in Graphic Design Work experience as Graphic Designer, Fine Artist, Editor or Photographer, Bachelor's of Art or Fine Art Degree for advancement
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 6% decline 3% 1%
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $34,000 $50,370 $92,780

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Numerous options are available for art majors, so the career depends on a student's point of interest and the type of art they major in. Most graduates use their education in jobs as photographers, graphic designers and art directors. Depending on the art-related major students choose, they can have a variety of careers to pick from. For example, an art-history major can become an art historian or an art dealer. Someone who majors in illustration may become a medical illustrator or even an animator. And students interested in design may major in costume or interior design.


Photographers take pictures that illustrate a story or convey a mood or message, and they need a considerable amount of technical ability to manipulate the images. A photographer may have an array of lenses, filters, tripods and other photographic tools at their disposal. In addition to taking the image, a photographer must be familiar with image-editing software programs, which can be used to crop images or add certain effects. Photographers work in many different environments; for example, a news photographer works mainly outside, while a portrait photographer works indoors.

Job Requirements for Photographers

An aspiring photographer needs training in the field in addition to some college-level education. Many professional photographers hold a bachelor's degree in photography, but associate's degree programs also exist. Students learn about lighting, color and printing, to name a few topics. In addition to academic requirements, aspiring photographers also need to have an eye for detail and artistic ability.

Salary and Career Outlook for Photographers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that as of May 2018, the annual average salary for photographers was $42,770. The highest-paying industries for photographers that year included aerospace parts and product manufacturing, local government, and motion picture and video companies. Between 2018 and 2028, the BLS predicts employment of photographers will decline by 6%.

Graphic Designer

Sometimes referred to as graphic artists, graphic designers convey messages in electronic and print media using print and layout techniques, animation, photography, illustration and type. Graphic designers rely heavily on software programs that help them put together layouts and certain elements of design. These programs give designers a way to visualize the final product and see what works and what doesn't. Graphic designers may also work with other advertising professionals, such as copywriters, when adding other elements to the project. Graphic designers often work for advertising or publishing agencies, but they can also freelance or run their own business.

Job Requirements for Graphic Designers

Entry-level graphic design positions usually require that applicants hold a bachelor's degree in the subject. Many colleges, universities and art schools offer such programs. The curriculum may include courses in design principles, studio art, commercial graphics production, computerized design and website design. Associate's degree programs in graphic design are also available.

Salary and Career Outlook for Graphic Designers

Graphic designers throughout the U.S. earned an average of $54,680 per year in 2018, according to data from the BLS. Those working in the states of the District of Columbia, New York, Massachusetts, California and Connecticut received the highest wages at that time, with average annual mean salaries ranging from $60,700 to $71,180. The BLS anticipates a 3% increase in employment for graphic designers between 2018 and 2028.

Art Director

An art director oversees various types of visual communication media, such as packaging, books, magazines, websites and newspapers. They make final decisions regarding the layout, design and production of projects. Since there are many different aspects to designing visual media, an art director works closely with other design and advertising professionals. Some of these professionals include graphic designers, illustrators, copywriters and photographers. The goal of an art director is to ensure that the final product is pleasing to the eye and clearly communicates a message.

Job Requirements for Art Directors

Before being promoted to art director, students can work for advertising, design or publishing firms by having a bachelor's degree in fine arts. They can begin their career as an entry-level artist or designer and, after many years of experience, move into the role of art director. Fine-arts programs introduce students to multiple art disciplines, such as drawing, photography and graphic design. Aspiring art directors must know how to manage people, have strong organizational skills and be able to visualize the finished product.

Salary and Career Outlook for Art Directors

The average annual salary for art directors in 2018 was $104,590, the BLS reports. Further statistics from the bureau reflect that most art directors at that time earned between $52,160 and $172,570 per year. A job growth rate of 2% is predicted for art directors from 2018-2028, with positions particularly expected to increase in the public relations and advertising realms.

In order to begin a career as a photographer, courses in photography may be sufficient; however, a degree is required for specialized photography careers. Graphic designers and art directors will need at least a bachelor's degree. Job growth in these fields is expected to be sluggish, ranging from 1% and 3%, during the next decade.

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