What can you do with a visual arts degree? | Best graduate schools


Prospective visual arts students who dream of becoming rich and famous should understand that it is difficult to achieve this as an artist or designer, as many people working in art and design are earning awards. modest wages.


Compensation statistics from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, show that many American art professionals earn less than $ 60,000 per year. In May 2019, the median annual salary was $ 48,760 for craftsmen and fine arts; $ 56,040 for interior designers; and $ 52,110 for graphic designers.

While a job in art or design usually doesn’t make a person rich, getting an art or design degree doesn’t doom someone to a life of poverty either, say alumni and school teachers. art. There are many ways to market artistic talent, from designing products that consumers want to buy to creating advertisements for businesses.

BLS statistics show that the median annual salary among artistic directors – visual artists who create images in publications, product packages, movies and TV shows such as brand logos – were $ 94,220 in 2019, almost $ 55,000 more than salary median in all occupations.

Here are a few occupations where art degree holders can earn far higher salaries than an average job, according to the BLS:

  • Art Directors: Median earnings are over $ 90,000 per year.
  • Multimedia artists and animators: median incomes are greater than $ 75,000 per year
  • Producers and Directors: Median earnings are just under $ 75,000
  • Fashion designers: Median earnings are just under $ 74,000

Some jobs combine art and engineering, such as architecture, a career that requires a specialized degree and license to practice and where the median annual salary exceeds $ 80,000. Industrial design jobs – which focus on developing ideas for manufactured products – require a combination of creativity and technological knowledge, and the median salary for these workers is just under $ 69,000.

There are also curatorial positions for people who dream of working in art galleries and museums. According to the Association of Art Museum Directors Salary survey 2019, compensation for curatorial roles in North America varies considerably by hierarchy. The median salary for a conservation assistant is around $ 42,000. There are many steps on the Conservative career ladder, and each step usually results in a raise. The median salary for a chief curator or director of curatorial affairs is $ 128,365.

While some visual arts and design professions are lucrative, potential visual arts students who are primarily interested in money should think twice before earning an art degree, experts say.

“If you want a lucrative career, don’t become an artist,” wrote Matt Drissell, associate professor of art at Dordt University in Iowa and chair of the university’s art and design department. “Million dollar newsworthy auctions are not the norm. If you want the challenge and the joy of being a motivated, curious and creative person, embrace the artistic career.”

Drissell, who received his Masters of Fine Arts in Painting from the New York Academy of Art, says the rewards for artistic work aren’t primarily financial. “As many learned during Covid, being able to personally deal with life through the visual arts can be healing and affirming. And being able to share that creativity widely can build community, whether in times of turmoil. and heartache or inspiration and joy. It may not be the lucrative path, but it can be rich in meaning and meaning. “

That said, art school alumni who have started their own businesses say that artists with an entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen can sometimes make a lot of money.

Adam “Ace” Moyer – founder and CEO of Knockaround, a California-based sunglasses company – says his life story illustrates the potential to translate an arts education into a successful business.

“I have two art degrees, 7 years of art studies in college, and I’ve never taken a business course in my life,” Moyer wrote in an email. “And I make a lot of money. And I own a house, a bunch of cool cars, and I take a fun vacation with my family. I have friends who are graduates in business who ask me for business advice. there is luck – but, if I can do it, so can you. “

Mercedes Austin – founder and CEO of tile company Mercury Mosaics – says she’s never met a successful person who is driven exclusively by money. “I found career opportunities that matched my instincts,” said Austin, who took a fine arts program but left before he graduated, explained in an email. “I never used overthinking and logic. If I could land on things that looked good to me, I knew I could build the logistics around it through research, hard work, and persistence. “

An entrepreneurial spirit can allow artists to see money-making opportunities that might not hit them otherwise, says Annika Connor, professional painter and alumnus of the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Connor creates gallery paintings and sells everyday items such as pillow cases and tote bags that feature images of his paintings through his business, Annika’s Art Shop.

The colors of these merchandise are chosen to match those of his original paintings, but the designs are often abstract versions of the original images. By decorating more affordable items with his artwork, Connor reaches a larger and more economically diverse audience than she would otherwise, giving her more sales opportunities, she says.

Connor suggests that aspiring artists wonder if they are motivated enough to push themselves to the degree necessary to work independently in the art industry.

“It’s hard to work for yourself in whatever industry you choose, and you have to be ambitious and you have to be hardworking, and you have to be innovative and you have to be organized,” she says.

Connor notes that professional artists sometimes idealize their profession so much that they forget the need to make a living. She recommends that artists keep in mind that their work has both creative and commercial elements.

“There are business principles that need to be followed so that you can find income and income growth,” she says. “You can’t magically expect things to happen just because you want to.”

Connor warns of a “mistaken belief that you don’t have to learn anything about business just because you’re an artist,” and suggests looking for an art program that includes classes on how to “survive.” in the art sector.

Artists need to know how to promote themselves, because no business or individual will care more about their long-term success than themselves, Connor adds. “We live in a time when you can’t expect to meet a gallery owner who will take care of everything for you. This is no longer the reality, if it ever was.”

Connor notes that exceptionally successful artists can get extremely wealthy.

“People always talk about the starving artist. They never talk about the fact that in the art world we are one of the few industries where there is absolutely no income cap on our ability to earn. “, she says. “When we reach a level of success, the astronomical returns (are) unprecedented.”

Jim Spruell, president and co-founder of Zuza Films in Georgia, says his artistic training has opened up many career opportunities for him. “I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Georgia and luckily I have had a job since the day I graduated,” he wrote in an email. “In fact, I had a job waiting for me before I even graduated.

Spruell, who has extensive experience in the advertising industry, suggests several employers to consider for art degree holders. “Advertising companies are great places to look if you have an art degree,” he says. “Design companies are also always on the lookout for talented people with an art degree. Even internal marketing departments for big brands.”

Caitlin Vitalo, a sculptor and glass artist who is also an education coordinator at the Hunterdon Art Museum in New Jersey, recognizes that earning a low salary is a distinct possibility for those with an art degree.

“Jobs are sometimes hard to find, they don’t always pay what you would like every time, and it can take a long time to see financial success,” Vitalo wrote in an email. “However, working in the arts is not impossible and if it is something that you are passionate about, it is worth pursuing. When I struggled to find financial success with my art degree, I often remembered how miserable I would be to do anything else. “

Vitalo, an MA in Fine Arts from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, notes that graduates of art schools may pursue more careers than they initially realize.

“I didn’t realize that showcases were a job you could do as an artist when I started and now I wish I had it,” she says. “Every scene in a movie or TV show is meticulously designed and created by an artist. Billboards are created by artists. a contributor. “


Kayleen C. Rice

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