Frequently Asked Questions About Careers in the Visual Arts
An image can be a powerful means of expression. Skilled artists and designers who can convey concepts, emotions, or messages through visual media can find fulfilling opportunities in a range of fields. Whether you are interested in a career as an illustrator, painter, graphic designer, or digital artist, the training offered by visual arts schools can help bring your goals within reach. With enough experience, you could even take on a leadership role as an art director.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about careers in the visual arts:
How Can I Get Into This Type of Work?
It's essential to have a strong portfolio that showcases your artistic abilities. A website or digital portfolio can easily be shared with potential clients or employers. You can develop this through self-study, but a lot of artists choose to do it as part of a post-secondary educational program.
Many colleges, universities, vocational schools, and technical institutes offer programs in visual arts. Formal training can help you broaden your skills and introduce you to techniques and technologies you may not otherwise get to experience. You can get hands-on practice in a studio setting and develop confidence in your creative abilities. Plus, the feedback you get from knowledgeable instructors can help you refine your talents and shape your style.
Programs vary, but they may include courses in:
- Design principles
- Color theory
- Painting and drawing
- Page layout
- Digital imaging
- Conceptual art
- Motion graphics
- Video editing
Some programs also give students an opportunity to complete internships in real-world businesses.
What Are the Typical Earnings in This Field?
Earnings can vary widely depending on how much experience you have, the specific type of work you do, the industry you work in, and even where you live. Many artists are self-employed, so their earnings fluctuate with their workload. Others find salaried positions with advertising agencies, publishing companies, design firms, and other types of businesses.
Below are the median and top-end earnings for different visual arts careers as of May 2018. (All salary figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.) You can also see which areas of the country tend to have the highest rates of pay for each occupation.1
- Median pay—$93K
- Top pay—$173K and up
- Highest-paying regions—California, New York, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington
Multimedia artists and animators
- Median pay—$73K
- Top pay—$124K and up
- Highest-paying regions—Connecticut, Washington, the District of Columbia, California, and New York
Painters, sculptors, and illustrators
- Median pay—$49K
- Top pay—$98K and up
- Highest-paying regions—Connecticut, California, Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Arizona
- Median pay—$50K
- Top pay—$86K and up
- Highest-paying regions—The District of Columbia, New York, Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut
What Is the Long-Term Job Outlook?
The demand for art can fluctuate with economic conditions. However, there should be steady demand for artists who create graphics, illustrations, and animations for online publications, websites, movies, video games, and mobile apps. Those who strive to keep their skills current and stay abreast of the latest trends will find the best prospects.
Have a look at the projected rate of job growth and the number of new jobs that are expected to open up in each of the following artistic occupations between 2016 and 2026:2
- Multimedia artists and animators—8 percent / 6,200 new jobs
- Painters, sculptors, and illustrators—7 percent / 1,900 new jobs
- Art directors—5 percent / 4,900 new jobs
- Graphic designers—4 percent / 11,100 new jobs
In some industries, opportunities should be even better. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in each of the above occupations is expected to grow more than 15 percent in scientific consulting services, museums, motion picture and video companies, online retailers, and software publishers.
Reach for Your Goals
Are you ready to advance your artistic aspirations? Formal training can open up an extraordinary array of possibilities for your future. And it's easy to search for visual arts schools near you. Just put your zip code into the school finder below to get started!
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on May 15, 2019.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, website last visited on March 20, 2018.