Professional Artist: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a professional artist. Learn about career options along with education requirements and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Art degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Professional Artist?

Professional artists convey a specific thought or feeling through artistic media such as photography, painting, sculpting and illustration. Some artists, like those who specialize in craft and fine arts, typically use traditional physical materials. Weavers, painters and sculptors are just a few examples of craft or fine artists. On the other hand, multimedia artists and animators use computer programs to create their work for video games, movies, marketing campaigns and more. To find out more about job duties, career options and education requirements, as well as salaries and the job outlook for professional artists, review the chart and information below.

Craft and Fine Artists Multimedia Artists and Animators
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Art, design, fine arts, art history Game design and development, computer graphics technology, art
Key Responsibilities Convey emotion or thought through paintings, sculptures, or drawings; design and create projects for art galleries or businesses Create visuals and graphics for video games, television programs and online media
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2%* 6%*
Median Annual Wage (2015) $45,080* $63,970*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Artists

Artists create images, sculptures, paintings, photographs, installations and a number of other art forms that help convey a feeling or idea in a public or private space. Some artists work on commission, and, in this role, you might create work based on specifications from park districts, schools, museums and private individuals. You might also create a work or a series of projects to sell in galleries or to private collectors. Only the most successful artists are capable of supporting themselves on the sale of their work alone, however. You might choose to supplement your income by teaching or working in a gallery or a museum.

Educational Requirements

Professional artists often earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in order to learn the skills and gain enough knowledge in their field to be competitive. When applying to one of these programs, you may need to provide a portfolio, with samples of your current work. However, just having artistic talent isn't sufficient. You should also be able to address current demands by situating your work in the context of art history and the art world market.

Since the art world can be very specialized, professional artists usually attend an art school or art academy that gives focuses on the specific medium in which they want to work. When selecting schools, you may want to consider the program's strengths, to ensure the faculty offers enough classes in your chosen medium.

The BFA curriculum has a core of liberal arts courses that include courses in art history, theory and art criticism. The majority of your courses are in studio art, where you learn to perfect your technique, develop personal style and build a portfolio of work. The compilation of a portfolio is essential for landing your first gallery show, attracting employers and collectors.

Career and Salary Outlook

Competition in the job market will be keen, since many talented people with creative abilities pursue careers in the arts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of fine artists, including illustrators, painters and sculptors, earned an annual wage between $19,140 and $99,140 as of May 2015. Artists who work in new media typically earn more than artists who work with traditional mediums such as illustration or painting. In May 2015, the BLS reported the majority of animators and multimedia artists earned annual wages between $36,930 and $113,600. The growing demand for Web designers, animators and multimedia artists will continue to provide job opportunities to artists with those skills.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other career options may include fashion design, industrial design and interior design, all of which require a bachelor's degree. Fashion designers create designs for all types of clothing, from shoes to dresses and jackets. Industrial designers focus on the design of all kinds of products, from cars to electronic appliances and furniture. Interior designers create plans for the interiors of homes, offices and more, selecting appropriate lighting, furnishings and more.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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