Creative Arts Degrees: Program Overviews

Students interested in pursuing study in the arts, including theater, visual arts or writing, can achieve associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees in those areas. Competition for jobs is strong, but growth is expected in artistic fields.

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Essential Information

While formal education is not necessarily required to enter artistic fields, college education and study in artistic forms provide technical and creative outlets that develop skills and hands-on experience working as creative artists. Various degree levels including associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees can all be obtained in specific artistic fields. Depending on the specific art form studied, these programs allow opportunities for artistic expression while meeting some general education requirements.

Fields of study include theater arts, visual arts, and creative writing, among others. Entrance into arts programs at the bachelor's level requires a high school diploma and some background in art, while master's programs usually require a bachelor's degree in a related field. Programs often include internship opportunities, as well as the creation of portfolios or original works.

Associate of Arts in the Theater Arts

An associate's degree in theater arts includes basic training in many aspects of theater, incorporating skills such as acting, directing and set design. This program focuses on both performance and performing arts history. Some programs offer opportunities to work on school plays or musicals. Coursework prepares students for beginning work on the stage or continued education. Some general education courses are also part of this program. Students cover acting and technical theater topics that include:

  • Voice and movement
  • Improvisation
  • History of theater
  • Stage make-up
  • Lighting
  • Theater costuming

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts

Students studying the visual arts at the bachelor's degree level learn to create a variety of media forms, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and computer-generated artwork. Bachelor's programs prepare artists through interdisciplinary curriculum allowing students to work with different materials and mediums. Prior to graduation, students must complete an internship or present a portfolio as a senior project, which can be used during the post-graduation job search. The visual arts curriculum primarily focuses on artistic disciplines, but also includes general education requirements. Classes related to the major include:

  • Color theory
  • Art history
  • Elements of photography
  • Digital design
  • Painting fundamentals
  • Modern art topics

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

A master's degree program in creative writing discusses the instruction, critique and practice of writing creatively. Students write poetry, short stories or novels as part of the coursework. Peer review of student writing helps develop a critical eye of others' work and essential critiquing of a student's own writing. Class work will vary greatly depending on the student's desired area of study. In addition to the practice of writing, students will read and analyze other literary works to help inform their own writing. Graduates are usually required to complete an original work, such as a novel or script, prior to graduation. Courses cover topics in:

  • Poetry
  • Creative nonfiction
  • Publishing
  • Literary criticism
  • Literature form and technique
  • Narrative voice

Popular Career Options

A career in the theater arts may be highly competitive, but with the proper training and talent, graduates with an associate's degree may be able to find work in the field. Jobs may include:

  • Movie extra
  • Actor
  • Costume assistant
  • Stage assistant

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that jobs for craft and fine artists will increase by 2% between 2014 and 2024, which is slower than the national average ( The BLS also anticipated that competition in this field would be intense as more and more artists join the workforce. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for fine artists was $46,460.

Competition is also strong in the field of creative writing, but the BLS anticipated that writer and author jobs would also increase 2% between the years 2014 and 2024. The BLS also notes that individuals with an increased knowledge of digital media are more likely to be able to find work. The BLS stated that the median annual wages of writers and authors were $60,250 in 2015.

Continuing Education

Theatre arts students who wish to continue their education beyond an associate's degree may pursue bachelor's or master's degrees, such as a Bachelor of Art in Theatre Arts or Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts. These degrees can provide training and experience that is often necessary when pursuing a career in the field. These programs also provide specialized training for students pursuing careers as directors or playwrights.

Graduates of visual arts bachelor's programs might wish to get a master's degree, such as a Master of Arts in Visual Arts. The master's program can prepare graduates to advance their careers into management positions. Additionally, obtaining a teaching certificate or Doctor of Philosophy in a related field can also prepare for visual arts careers in teaching at secondary and post-secondary school levels.

There are a variety of degrees available for those who desire to pursue an education in their creative passions. At every level of study, from associate's degrees all the way to master's degrees, and even doctoral degrees in related fields, students are guided through the history and production of their chosen art form, and coached in the methodology necessary to compose a quality piece. Although there is a significant level of competition in these fields, training and talent, as well as some knowledge of the arts in the evolving world of technology, can prepare a student to effectively compete for a career after graduation.

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