Online Undergraduate Degrees in Art: Learning Options

Dec 04, 2019

Find out about online art courses and in which undergraduate degree programs they're most commonly offered. Get course descriptions, program info and online requirements to make an informed decision.

Essential Information

Animation, photography and illustration are three areas of art that allow for online study. Online bachelor's degree programs in these fields instruct students in foundational areas of art, such as color, design, business and technology, as well as specialized skills in their area of interest. Majors with art courses include animation, media arts and animation, animation and visual effects, photography, visual communications, and illustration.

Bachelor's degree programs in animation and photography are commonly offered online, while online bachelor's programs in illustration are not as common. Photography and illustration may be offered as concentrations in other degree programs. In online courses, students can view archived lectures and turn in assignments via the Internet. E-mail, online message boards and chat functions allow them to communicate with instructors and classmates.

An up-to-date computer with a high-speed Internet connection is mandatory for online study. Some degree programs in art require that students work on a Mac. Many courses will require the student to purchase special software or equipment.

All of these programs are available entirely online. They call for about four years of full-time study. In most bachelor's degree programs, students are required to complete general education courses such as mathematics and social studies. These art-related major programs stress the basic knowledge of theory and skills and help students create portfolios of their work.

Bachelor's Degree in Animation

Bachelor of Science in Animation degree programs are often available online. Closely related degree programs, such as Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Animation and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation and Visual Effects may also be an option. Students develop basic skills and knowledge involving drawing, color and character design as well as story development, filmmaking theories and the animation business practices. They also gain proficiency using animation software programs.

Program Information and Requirements

It takes completion of 120-134 credit hours to fulfill the course requirements for a bachelor's degree in animation. Degree programs can be completed entirely online. The online courses are presented asynchronously, meaning students can access the materials and work on assignments at any time as long as certain deadlines are upheld. Students interact with their instructors and peers through the use of Internet-based message boards, chat rooms and e-mail.

Course Topics

The curriculum is comprised of core animation courses and general education courses. The general education credits typically come from classes in the humanities, sciences and math.

History of Animation

This course summarizes the important events, styles and innovations in the field of animation from the first animated sequences to modern production techniques. Different types of animation that have developed over the years are identified. The current environment of the animation world is discussed as well as possible future trends.

Life Drawing for Animation

Students utilize the basic understructure of animation to create character models based on human and animal anatomy. Topics emphasized include proportional issues, accurate joint movements, rotation of poses and gesture studies. The relationship between character models and the surrounding environment is also studied, as well as the effects of light, shadows and shading on animation sequences.

Computer 3D Modeling and Animation

The fundamental skills and vocabulary involving 3D animation and modeling are examined in depth. Working in a computerized animation environment is the focus of this course. Other topics analyzed include rendering, texture mapping, rigging, scripting and other types of modeling, such as nurbs and spline modeling and poly-modeling.

Bachelor's Degree in Photography

Online instruction in photography is offered through Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Science in Photography degree programs. Some schools offer photography studies as a concentration within a bachelor's degree in visual communications. These degree programs acquaint students with wide variety of camera, lighting and image manipulation equipment. The aesthetic and creative components that define an effective photographic image are detailed.

Program Information and Requirements

A bachelor's degree in photography requires completion of 120-132 credit hours. No campus visits are required to fulfill degree requirements. The online courses generally do not have specific meeting times and can be worked on from any location with an Internet connection.

Students enrolled in this degree program typically buy their own required camera and lighting equipment and computer software for image manipulation and production. Although not always required, most programs recommend students to have access to a Mac computer for accessing coursework and completing assignments.

Course Topics

A combination of core major courses, general education credits and electives make up the coursework of a bachelor's degree in photography. If photography is a concentration of visual communication, the core courses are categorized as foundational courses and concentration courses.

History of Photography

The medium of photography is examined from the earliest examples and technologies to modern day practices. Key artists, movements and ideologies that defined specific eras of photography are identified. The commercial and artistic roles that photography has played over the years are compared and contrasted.

Color Photography Techniques and Management

This course focuses on the technical and conceptual facets of producing aesthetically pleasing color photographs. The process of producing proper exposures is analyzed as well as the following steps involving RAW processing. An emphasis is also placed on color theory and perception as well as the emotional impact of certain colors and color combinations.

Digital Photography and Imaging

Students develop a basic understanding of the concepts and tools involved with digital photography as well as the relationship between the camera and the computer. Digital editing and photographic postproduction techniques are also covered. Other topics discussed include vector tools, layering techniques and proper input to output workflow.

Bachelor's Degree in Illustration

Though not especially common, online Bachelor of Fine Art in Illustration degree programs do exist. They are sometimes offered as a concentration within a visual communication bachelor's degree program. Essential skills involving design development, art direction and creative problem solving are covered. Traditional and digital computer animation techniques are practiced as well as narrative and storytelling illustration.

Program Information and Requirements

Credit hours of 120-132 make up the curriculum of a bachelor's degree in illustration. No in-person work is generally required to complete the degree program. Students can participate in online discussions, view archived lectures and work on assignments on their own schedule. Web-based conferencing software allows communication between professors and students.

Course Topics

General education, core, elective and concentration courses constitute the curriculum of a bachelor's degree in illustration. A portfolio of illustration examples is assembled by the student as the degree program progresses.

Color and Design

This course covers the foundational principles of various types of visual design. The visual forces of color, color psychology and color proportion are also studied. The relationships between compositional elements like color, texture, line and shape and the emotional impact of visual designs are discussed.

Clothed Figure Drawing

Students acquire methods and skills for drawing character models with clothes in a variety of poses and actions. The visual relationship between the body and articles of clothing are examined. Strategies for simulating three-dimensional forms are identified as well as essential proportion, foreshortening and staging techniques.

Experimental Computer Illustration

The contemporary transition from established illustration styles, skills and equipment to modern digital means is analyzed. Emphasis is placed on the combination of traditional mark-making techniques with digital manipulation and direction techniques. Students may be required to complete an original project focusing on their own personal design interests.

Career Information

A bachelor's degree in animation may be sufficient education for entry-level animation jobs. In 2016, O*NET reported that 62% of all multimedia artists and animators indicated a bachelor's degree was their highest level of education ( The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May 2018, there were 28,560 multimedia artists and animators earning an average yearly salary of $72,520 ( The BLS predicts an occupational growth of 4% in the number of jobs filled by multimedia artists and animators between the years 2018-2028.

In May of 2018, the BLS reported that there were 49,560 photographers earning an average of $34,000 per year. A 6% occupational decline between the years 2018-2028 was forecasted by the BLS in 2018. Photographers may specialize in portrait, fine art, newspaper, scientific or commercial work. According to the BLS, about 60% of all photographers are self-employed.

O*NET reported that only 22% of illustrators and other fine artists, such as painters and sculptors, held a bachelor's degree as their highest level of education. The education acquired from a bachelor's degree program is seen more as a demonstration of skills and proof of training than an educational requirement. The BLS found that in May of 2018, there were 11,620 fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators, earning a mean yearly income of $58,370. Such occupations were expected to grow by 1% between 2018-2028 as reported by the BLS.

Continuing Education Information

Bachelor's degree holders looking to expand their knowledge base and professional standing have the option of completing a master's degree program in photography in which they'll continue to develop technical and artistic skills. Though uncommon, these degree programs may be offered entirely online.

Master's degree programs in animation are available online. These degree programs are intended for people looking to further their education and develop their careers.

Illustrators with a bachelor's degree can earn their master's degree online, though these degree programs are scarce. Receiving a master's degree in illustration results in increased skill building, artistic development, networking possibilities and possible career advancement.

There are many different online options for students looking to complete an undergraduate degree in art, with animation, although some programs may be easier to find than others. Students will gain a thorough education into art techniques and methods relevant to the area of art that they are most interested in, with online master's degree programs also available to those who want to gain advanced knowledge of their field.

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