How to Become an Artist: Career Roadmap

Sep 17, 2019

Becoming an artist typically requires specialized education and plenty of practice in the field. Here we discuss how to become a professional artist, as well as what artists do and how much they make.

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Steps to Become an Artist

Artists help beautify our world by creating a wide range of artistic pieces in different media that may be functional or aesthetic (or both). Although there are many different kinds of artists, including craft artists and art educators, here we will focus on how to become a professional artist, or fine artist, who typically creates pieces purely for aesthetics. Becoming a fine artist might require education and training, which we discuss in more detail below.

Step 1: Artist Education Requirements

Formal education is not typically required for a fine artist, but many fine artists have at least a bachelor's degree. At the bachelor's level, students can usually choose from a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), or even some Bachelor of Science (BS) in Art degree programs. There are some BFA degree programs available online and some online courses for becoming an art teacher, but most art programs are on-campus, due to the hands-on nature of the field.

Bachelor's degree programs in art usually allow students to begin specializing and training in a particular media, such as sculpture, painting and drawing, ceramics, photography, or printmaking. This training typically takes place during labs and/or studio courses. Students in these programs may take core art courses in areas like:

  • Drawing
  • Design
  • Art history
  • Art theory
  • Visual arts

Step 2: Artist Training

Artists need to gain experience and training in the field, primarily by creating art and continuing to try new techniques and practice their skills. However, some artists may also train with experienced artists in the field to learn from their expertise and/or attend continuing education opportunities, such as workshops, classes, or lessons.

Step 3: Advanced Education

An advanced degree is not usually required to become a fine artist, but master's and doctoral degree programs are available in the field to help further develop an artist's skills. Master's degree programs are usually offered as a Master of Art (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Art. These master's degree programs commonly offer similar areas of concentration as a bachelor's degree program in art and help further develop artists' skills and techniques in their area of focus.

Doctoral degree programs in art are most commonly offered as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree and sometimes in areas like fine arts or visual arts. These programs generally explore research methods in the arts and require a dissertation or fellowship.

Step 4: Advancement in the Field

Fine artists typically advance in the field by growing in reputation, which may lead to selling and/or displaying more pieces of their work to the public. Artists may accomplish this by generating a wide range of works in a particular style, participating in art exhibits and galleries, and continuing to expand their portfolio.

What Does an Artist Do?

Fine artists create pieces of art in their particular media of expertise. This involves creative thinking, planning and designing, and lots of patience as they work on a piece. Some artists may work full-time, while others may work part-time and hold another job. They commonly work in a studio space as they:

  • Choose materials to work with
  • Apply various visual techniques
  • Experiment with new techniques
  • Add pieces to their portfolio
  • Apply for project funding through grants

How Much Does an Artist Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, made an average annual salary of $58,370 in 2018. Most of these fine artists worked as independent artists, writers, and performers and made an average of $52,200 for the same year.

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