Artist Education Requirements and Career Information

Aug 22, 2019

Learn about the diverse types of art and artists and the job opportunities, education, training and type of art careers available to artists in many fields.

'Artist' is a broad category for anyone who wishes to work with any medium in any field related to art. To make it easier to discuss this category of employment, art can be broken into four sub-categories: fine artists, multimedia artists, craft artists, and art directors. These four sub-categories vary greatly in their work environments, focus, and salaries. This article gives a general overview of how to become an artist in any of these categories, as well as the salary and employment outlook of each type of art career.

Essential Information

Artists use an ever-expanding array of methods and materials to put their thoughts and emotions into tangible form. Their work may be realistic and representational of people, places and events, or it may be highly abstract. The majority of artists are self-employed, while others find work in industries such as digital and print publishing, advertising, video game development and motion pictures. Teaching, at all educational levels, is another career option for artists.

Required Education Training and education in specialized fields
Other requirements NASAD accreditation, bachelor's, master's, teaching certificate
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)* Fine artists 7%, multimedia artists 8%, craft artists 4%, art directors 5%
Median Salary (2018)* Fine artists $49,380, multimedia artists and animators $72,520, craft artists $34,240, art directors $92,780

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (

Artist Education Requirements

Artistry is an ability that comes naturally to many, so formal education isn't always required for a career as an artist. However, many artists find that education and training can help them fine-tune techniques or learn specialized skills that may make them more employable. For example, a 3-D animator needs training in the computer programs used to create 3-D animation, and an elementary school art teacher needs a bachelor's degree in art and a teaching certificate.

Art Degree Programs

Formal art education and training may be obtained in several ways. Many colleges and universities offer programs leading to a bachelor's or master's degree in fine arts. Additionally, there are postsecondary, independent schools of art and design that offer studio training in multimedia arts, as well as fine arts and crafts. Programs at these schools may lead to a certificate in an artistic specialty or to an associate's or bachelor's degree in fine arts. Independent art school instruction tends to focus on studio work, while university and college programs also emphasize academics.


The National Association of Schools in Art and Design (NASAD) has accredited approximately 323 institutions that offer educational programs in art and design. Most of these accredited programs lead to a degree in art. NASAD also establishes national standards for undergraduate and graduate art.


Art curriculum includes not only courses in studio art and art history, but also instruction in core subjects, such as science and English. Because computer graphics and other visual display software are increasingly used in visual arts, many art programs now include computer training.

Career Information

There are many types of art careers, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) divides working artists into four general categories: fine artists (a group that includes painters, illustrators and sculptors), multimedia artists and animators, craft artists, and art directors. In addition, cartoonists, print-makers, painting restorers and sketch artists all have art-related careers.

Job Description

Fine artists produce original artwork, using paint, acrylics, charcoal, ink, clay, plaster, metal and other materials. Some of their work is commission-based and may be displayed in museums, private galleries or in corporate and private collections. Craft artists work with a broad range of materials, including glass, ceramics, fabric and pottery, to produce mostly handmade original objects and reproductions that they sell in their studios, stores or at arts and crafts shows.

Art directors work in advertising and publishing, developing concepts and selecting designs that appear in printed or digital media. Multimedia artists and animators work chiefly in the motion picture or video gaming industries, with other jobs available in advertising or computer programming.

Options for Artist Careers

Typically, artists hired by companies start out by doing routine work as they build their skills and observe other artists at work. Craft and fine artists build their reputations and increase their earning potential by circulating their work and making a name for themselves in a particular style.

Many artists do freelance work while they are still in school or hold full-time jobs in other occupations. Freelancing gives artists the opportunity to gain experience and establish themselves in the profession, build a client base and create a portfolio that showcases their talents and skills. Developing a specialty, such as illustrating children's books or cartooning, is another path some artists take to professional advancement and higher income.

Artist Salary

According to the BLS in 2016, about 50% of all artists are self-employed, with salaries that vary widely. Some self-employed artists earn more than salaried artists, while others cannot support themselves solely from their art. Art directors made some of the highest salaries, with median annual wages of $92,780 in 2018. Multimedia artists and animators came in next, with median annual wages of $72,520. The median annual fine artist salary was $49,380, while craft artists had the lowest median annual wages of the group, at $34,240.

Employment Outlook

Both salaried and self-employed artists can expect strong competition for jobs, because the number of creative people who want to work as artists is greater than the number of job openings. According to the BLS, job growth in the occupation as a whole (art and design workers) is expected to be slower than average for all occupations, at 4%, between 2016 and 2026.

If you have artistic ideas and the talent to support them, a career in art is waiting for you. Just keep in mind that artists can find work on their own or with different types of companies, depending on their specific talents and specialties. This is a competitive job market, so, depending on the type of art you create, completing a formal training program can help set you apart and get your career moving.

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