If you're creative in nature and want a career that lets you highlight your talents, an education in the arts is a smart move. Because citizens of all ages value the arts so highly, jobs in this field tend to stand the test of time.
With the right education, it's possible to begin any number of careers within arts and design. Become an expert in fine arts and crafts, fulfill your dream of becoming an art director, or master the art of fashion design or pottery. If you're into technology, you can also parlay your arts and design education into a career in graphic design, industrial design, or industrial engineering.
Arts and Design Specializations
Today's artists have a wide variety of career and employment options. They may work from home as freelancers or independent contractors or be employed on staff by large enterprises. But wherever they work, they need to play well with others and meet deadlines. Read about some of the most popular arts and design specializations, and which kind of careers they lead to.
Graphic and Interactive Design
Graphic and interactive design is a smart specialization for creative types with certain skills. Graphic artists work in print or digital media to visually communicate ideas. They may design materials that include advertising and marketing brochures, logos, packaging, corporate reports and webpages. Combining art with the use of software, they lay out text and choose fonts, select and edit images to illustrate text, create images from data to convey statistical information in a visual format and incorporate design and decorative elements to give the work a finished and eye-catching appearance. Some of the sub-specialties that graphic designers might choose include these occupations:
- Typography designer
- Visual interface designer
- Advertising designer
- Logo/corporate identity designer
- Web designer
Some illustrators work in pen and ink and make drawings that are scanned to produce electronic images, but more and more illustrators are using computer technology to create digital images directly. They primarily make illustrations for books and other publications, advertising and animation. Various types of specialties that illustrators can choose from include the following:
- Children's book illustrator
- Medical, science, technical or nature illustrator
- Book jacket illustrator
- Police sketch artist and courtroom illustrator
- Interactive gaming illustrator
Digital Media and Arts
If being a part of the entertainment industry appeals to you, digital and multimedia arts could be your field. Digital artists and illustrators work with 3D design, computer-generated images (CGI), graphic illustration and animation. Your skills could land you a job creating visual effects for movies, TV and video games. Computer animators must be team players who each contribute his or her part toward creating the final product. Occupations for digital artists include these:
- Game designer
- Concept artist
- Storyboard illustrator
- Production illustrator
Photographers work diligently to get the perfect shot. Not only do they work with families and individuals, but they are often hired to create professional photos for businesses and corporations. With a flair for creativity, photographers are charged with finding the right lighting and scene for individual and group pictures. They may also design or style a shot, taking special care to ensure all people or items included are just right. Occupations for photographers include:
- Portrait photographers
- Commercial and industrial photographers
- Aerial photographers
- Scientific photographers
- News photographers
- Fine arts and photographers
- University photographers
Art and Design Certifications
While being naturally creative can help you get started as an artist, certain jobs require certifications and a college degree. Here are some popular careers in this field, along with their requirements.
During graphic design school, you'll learn the basics of illustration and typography, color theory, and Photoshop. A bachelor's degree is required for employment, and you can apply for vendor-specific certifications as well.
While pursuing a digital media degree, you'll learn all about digital media production, new media animation, and video animation. An associate's degree is usually required, although a bachelor's degree can leave one better off.
As you begin your education in multimedia arts, you'll be introduced to motion, HTML and CSS essentials, Photoshop, video production, editing and more. According to the BLS, you usually need a bachelor's degree to get started. Generally speaking, you'll learn industry-specific software while on-the-job.
Game design and animation
During this program, you'll learn about 3D graphics and programming, game design and theory, and character animation. An associate's degree or bachelor's degree is helpful to gain entry-level employment.
If you love to draw and paint, a degree in fine arts might be what you need. During these programs, you'll learn all about color theory, life drawing, painting, and studio work. According to the BLS, most fine artists earn a bachelor's degree or master's degree to improve their skills and job prospects.
Expert Q&A on Vocational Education for Art and Design
Many artists and designers take a number of different educational paths to enter their career. And in many cases, much of the work they do will be freelance or by contract. To get some advice for new artists and designers, or those who are seeking out education, we spoke with Peter Byrne, a faculty member in the School of Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology. For the past five years, he has been the Chair of the School of Design. RIT's programs are nationally ranked and the school has over 800 students, 40 full time faculty, and five undergraduate programs including: Industrial Design, Interior Design, Graphic Design, 3D Digital Design and New Media Design. There also are two graduate programs in Industrial Design and Visual Communication Design.
Peter Byrne is a longtime faculty member and Chair of the School of Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
RWM: What is the ideal educational path to enter the art/design field?
Byrne: Successful entry into an art and design career is supported by the completion of a bachelors degree and a strong portfolio of art or design work. Start building on the portfolio when in high school to have the requirements for acceptance at leading art and design programs. Visit National Portfolio Days and university open houses to receive feedback on your work and learn about art and design programs. Then, as you are preparing to apply to university/art school, we suggest that you: 1) consider a major that interests you and that you have a passion for, and 2) choose a four-year BFA in an art or design school/university that will support your goals for your time at school and the future. An alternate path would be to attend a community college and transfer to a four-year program. You will need to complete specific courses for the BFA degree, so if you do transfer into a program take note of how long it will take you to complete the degree.
RWM: What are the most popular art/design specialties for students right now?
Byrne: There is a tremendous amount of excitement around many art and design specialties. A student in the art and design field has many options to choose from including: industrial design, UX design, design for our mobile and social media experiences, rethinking health care design, game design, and entertainment design just to name a few of the hot areas right now. Working in partnership with other artists and designers across disciplines is a prevalent approach, which offers a rich and rewarding experience for new artists and designers.
RWM: Which art/design jobs are most in-demand?
Byrne: According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the demand for art and design creative expertise is expected to increase throughout the next decade. Industrial designers, web developers, interior designers, graphic designers, art directors, illustrators, and UX designers are just a few that are in high demand right now. The need for creative individuals is driven by the robust skills and abilities of artists and designers. In a recent study out of Boston College, funded by the National Endowment of the Arts, they found that creativity and an art and design education, fuels innovation in the workplace. Flexible and uniquely equipped with 21st century skills, artists and designers are prepared and able to collaborate, innovate, and be entrepreneurs in our contemporary marketplace.
RWM: Why would you encourage someone to pursue a career in art/design?
Byrne: When someone pursues a career with passion and commitment, they are going to be happy and fulfilled. Artists and designers are lifelong learners. Our contemporary life needs the qualities someone in these fields brings to the industry. In a recent Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) survey of graduates from the art and design field, over 92% of respondents were very satisfied with their educational experience, and over 50% of the respondents went on to pursue a graduate degree. The future leaders of our creative and innovative industries will come from individuals who embrace their passion for art and design and pursue a rigorous education in their field. The benefits are many. A creative career can be pursued with an individual focus through freelance work and entrepreneurship, or in working collaboratively with existing companies and professionals. You write and construct the map for your career journey!
RWM: Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this industry?
Byrne: In preparation for a career in art and design, you need to develop a strong portfolio. The following are some portfolio tips and suggestions:
- Showcase your talents, skills, and potential
- Include your best work
- Include drawings from direct observation for applications to BFA programs
- Show diversity and range
- Create a narrative flow
- Refine and edit your work
- Prepare your portfolio work in different media to showcase diversity
- Get your portfolio assessed (you can visit a school, reach out to a professional, or attend a National Portfolio Day during the year.)
Lastly, when you are in school, you begin your career as an artist/designer; take advantage of all it has to offer you. Work hard and achieve beyond what you think is possible. You will extend, expand, and grow your ideas, skills, and experiences. Ask questions, seek out new knowledge, be a good listener, and believe in your own vision. To quote the designer and artist Wendell Castle from his studio rules for creative process: "The dog that stays on the porch will find no bones."
Art/Design Careers and Salary Information
While jobs in the field of arts and design may not be growing at an astronomical pace, the opportunity is still there. Make sure to check out the chart below for updated information on the most popular jobs in this field, including salary data and more.
|Career||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Number of New Jobs||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators||54,170||800||3.1|
|Multimedia Artists and Animators||70,300||3,900||6|
If you have a passion for art and your heart is set on a career in design, pursuing a certificate or degree from a technical or vocational school could be the first step.
- Craft and Fine Artists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015-16 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/craft-and-fine-artists.htm
- Graphic Designers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015-16 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm#tab-1
- Multimedia Artists and Animators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015-16 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm#tab-1
- Photographers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015-16 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm#tab-1
- Web Developers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015-16 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm#tab-1