Careers and Related Average Salary

According to the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) (, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that most visual artists will experience a healthy growth in jobs during the next decade. The growing need for visual artists goes hand-in-hand with the fact that images are quickly becoming the main way that information is communicated in countries and cultures all over the world. Illustrations, photographs and videos, live captured footage, and animation are needed in all walks of life, from the advertising, movie, and home entertainment industries to milieux as varied as public transportation, education, and space and aeronautics programs.

Art school administrators know well that the 21st century marks an explosion of jobs for visual artists, especially those who have been trained in computer arts. This doesn’t disregard those who have studied fine arts such as painting, sculpture, and architecture. Banks, public transit systems, and cities themselves have long been the clientele of fine artists who have been commissioned to create works of art for parks, atriums, public squares, and subway stations.

With design becoming more and more central to the way societies worldwide communicate information, all signs point in the direction of talented art school graduates having a healthy job market with competitive salaries. Although, on the whole, fine artists make lower salaries than art school graduates who have been trained in computer arts, if you have an education in color theory and drawing combined with knowledge of graphic arts, video editing, and perhaps animation software, as an art school graduate, you can make up to $90,000 a year and more.

Art Directors

Art Directors – $91,520

Art directors oversee a staff of artists to create print advertisements, television commercials, magazines, books, posters, and so on, and are ultimately responsible for the visual appearance, mood, and effectiveness of the final product presented to the client. The art director also helps to hire all artists involved in creating the final product, such as illustrators, printers, photographers, models, actors, and directors. The art director may also be involved in the initial brainstorming of concepts at the beginning of a project. Although the art director may not execute every artistic step along the way, to be in this position, one must be fluent in graphic design software. The final product must ultimately communicate the client’s brand and message to consumers, and the art director may be the one who has to add the last-minute finishing touches.
In order to be hired as an art director, a bachelor’s degree from an art school and a minimum of 10 years’ experience in advertising and/or publishing are needed. Familiarity with the bullpen, ease in directing other team members, and not being intimidated by deadlines are necessary, since the day-to-day life of advertising and publishing is full of deadlines that can make or break your job or even your career. A candidate for this position must be comfortable with brainstorming, know how to create storyboards, and be familiar with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, and other graphic design and video-editing software. The art director typically reports to top management.

Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators

Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators – $50,630

These three art professions fall under the umbrella of the fine arts. Painters and sculptors make most of their money by selling pieces through galleries and art dealers, and by completing commissioned works of art. Illustrators have more of an opportunity to make a living in commercial industries, designing book and magazine covers, illustrating, and creating technical drawings.

  • In terms of materials, painters generally use watercolors, oils, acrylics, tempera, and/or pastels. Sculptors work with stone, wood, clay, metal, and plastic. Illustrators use pen and ink, pencils, charcoal, and pastels.

Since it takes years to build a reputation as an artist and it is often difficult to sell one’s art, many fine artists supplement their income by teaching in art schools or secondary and elementary schools, or by giving private workshops and lessons. They may also find freelance jobs in commercial fields. Painters may get illustration jobs and sculptors may create furniture. Fine artists can also often find jobs in museums.

In order to be taken seriously as a fine artist, a bachelor’s and/or graduate degree from an art school is essential. A degree shows that you’ve taken basic art classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, color theory, perspective, and dimension and have been introduced to different mediums with which you can work. It also shows that you’ve learned art history, which can be essential to being hired by a school or museum. Having an up-to-date, stylish portfolio with your most recent and varied work is also necessary if you want to be taken seriously. Have your pieces professionally photographed and select a professional-looking carrying case. It’s also an excellent idea to have a website with your resume, contact information, and a gallery of artwork to show to dealers, galleries, and prospective clients.

Multimedia Artists and Animators

Multimedia Artists and Animators – $62,810

Multimedia artists and animators create images and special effects for websites, video games, movies, phone apps, storyboards, and television and print advertisements. It’s been predicted that job growth for multimedia artists and animators will increase faster than in other areas of visual arts and design because of the explosion of hand-held smart phones, video gaming, and the array of new computer technology into which advertisers are finding their way. As fast as the job market is growing, artists are learning the trade, and competition is strong. There is also the opportunity to find jobs out-of state and overseas (link to Local & national Classified Ads article) and even to work from home for nonlocal clients rather than relocate.

In order to be taken seriously as a multimedia artist and/or animator, you need to have solid knowledge of computer software programs and other digital tools that help you create still, video, and animated images. An art school degree proves to most employers that you have knowledge of such necessary software programs as Corel Photo-Paint and Adobe Illustrator, as well as CAD, video creation, and video editing software. You should also be familiar with digital cameras, graphic tablets, and digital pens. An art school degree will also prove to employers that you have a foundation in fine art theories and techniques in color, dimension, basic drawing, painting, and design.

Motion Picture and Video Industries

Motion Picture and Video Industries – $67,310

There are a variety of professions within the motion picture and video industries that pay well and require a high level of technical know-how. Art schools offer instruction in film/video editing, audio engineering, and special/visual effects that help art school graduates get jobs in motion pictures, television shows, commercials, news broadcasts, and the many other industries in which video technology is necessary.

  • Video editors are responsible for the end product of all the planning, storyboarding, scripting, lighting, directing, and recording of a project. They must sift through raw footage and, with the director’s instructions, seamlessly weave raw footage into a final product that fits the vision of the director and producer. Editors also have the technical challenge of adjusting all video footage with audio recordings so that the words and music are perfectly in sync. Knowledge of computers, editing software, and video cameras is essential.
  • Audio/sound engineers are responsible for the set-up of delicate sound recording equipment and for clean, precise audio recordings that meet the director’s and producer’s standards. It is also necessary to give the video engineer an audio recording that is easy to work with and coordinates precisely with the video footage. Audio engineers work with multitrack movie and video soundtracks to organize, synthesize, and coordinate layers of sound to fit the project’s vision. An audio engineer should be familiar with digital as well as analog recording devices, a variety of microphones, and appropriate software needed for postproduction stages.
  • Visual effects specialists are responsible for creating the illusions in a film during the postproduction phase. (Special effects are created on the set.) Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), which uses 3-D computer graphics in postproduction, has been part of the special effects industry since the 1990s. In order to be considered for professional work as a visual effects/CGI artist, you must know such software programs as Adobe Creative Suite, Avid, and Final Cut Pro and have an in-depth knowledge of filmmaking and editing. An art school bachelor’s or graduate degree in filmmaking and/or graphic arts is essential as a foundation and, because special, visual, and CGI effects continue to evolve with the film industry, these specialists must continue to learn and innovate on their own.

Craft Artist

Craft Artist – $33,070

Craft artists make art for more than art’s sake. They blend aesthetics with functional and decorative needs and can make a living selling their art to the general consumer who might want that special set of hand-blown glasses or one-of-a-kind quilt. Craft artists make items such as furniture, plates, jewelry, wall hangings, blown glass, bedding, and accessories. As the world’s green consciousness grows, factory-made items are losing their appeal, and handmade items are growing more popular.

  • In order to make a living as a craft artist, you need two things: the technical know-how to make your work durable and professional looking (without looking factory made) and a willingness to do the legwork to get your pieces into shops, craft fairs, and maybe even galleries and museums.

Getting the technical know-how from art school is one option. You can learn the basics about materials, finishes, and durability (welding, soldering, weaving, and so on), along with art history, color theory, basic composition, patterning, and other important techniques that will give you a foundation of knowledge and studio experience to build upon.

Once a craft artist is ready to sell works of art, there are a variety of venues that offer exposure to buyers. Contact local shops and galleries. Get a listing of craft fairs and booth events in your region and bring your work to all of them. If renting a booth is too expensive, organize a few other craft artists to share a booth for the day. Stay in contact with local galleries, as well, and remember, having your own website is essential to selling your work. Not only is it a place to showcase your work, but now that buying from the Internet is as run-of-the-mill as going to a store to shop, you can have buyers from all over the world. There are also many websites that represent craft artists. Look into these, as well.

Advertising and Related Fields

Advertising and Related Fields – $57,870

A large pool of jobs awaits art school graduates in the field of advertising. There is much work for graphic designers, photographers, and commercial designers, all requiring computer and software knowledge, as well a foundation in fine art. Basic drawing, color theory, composition, and dimension are necessary to creating and arranging images. This basic understanding of art combined with the knowledge of programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, CAD software, digital cameras, and pens and tablets, as well as PageMaker and other desktop publishing software, can put art school graduates in the running for well-paying positions in these fields.

  • Under the guidance of an art director, graphic designers create images and designs based on concepts that clients present. In order to be considered for professional work as a graphic designer, a bachelor’s and/or graduate degree from an art school is essential. A degree proves to employers that you have technical training in page layout, color theory, and composition. You also need to know software programs such as Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop or Corel Photo-Paint.
  • Photographers are responsible for providing high-quality still images for advertisements, books, magazines, movie posters, and a variety of other venues. As a photographer, you (along with the art director) will also need to be able to envision what props you need to complete a photo shoot, what the models will look like and wear, and how to touch up the photographs in postproduction. Photographers must have knowledge of digital cameras, lighting, and photo-editing software.
  • Commercial designers have the unique job of helping to design and further develop products such as cars, toys, and appliances that will be sold commercially to consumers. This profession requires not only an artistic sensibility and a foundation in fine art, but also knowledge of physics and an understanding of functional design and technical drawing. Marketing job skills are also important since the designs created must appeal to consumers. A bachelor’s and/or graduate degree from art school is a must in order to be considered for a position as a commercial designer. Familiarity with Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software programs such as Autodesk AliasStudio, Autodesk Maya for Design Visualization, and SolidWorks – as well as Adobe Illustrator and InDesign, and Quark XPress and video editing software – is also required.