Professional Artist: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a fine artist. Learn about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook, and potential salary 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?

Fine artists create and exhibit their craft through multiple mediums, such as sculptures, paintings, and illustrating, glassblowing, knitting, weaving and carving to name a few. Fine artists may even develop their own new way to create art. Artists may experiment with color, texture, perspective and other traditional art techniques. They typically keep a professional portfolio of their work to show potential clients or buyers. Fine artists may display their work in galleries, craft shows, museums, online markets and more. Some artists may even participate in fundraising or grant writing to provide financial support for different projects. Continue reading to see if becoming a fine artist is for you.

Degree Required High school diploma
Key Skills Artistic ability, business skills, creativity, dexterity
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3%*
Average Salary (May 2015) $54,170*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Might I Study to Become a Professional Artist?

No clear-cut educational path exists for becoming a professional artist. You don't necessarily need formal education to work in this field, although it can be difficult to earn a living without completing some form of training to help you develop your skills. Colleges and universities across the nation offer fine arts programs at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. Certificate and associate degree programs in fine art specialties are also available, typically from independent art schools. If you're looking for an accredited art school, you might start by consulting the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, which accredited about 352 institutions as of 2017 (

A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree typically comprises a wide variety of art courses, including drawing, painting, ceramics, figure drawing and sculpture. However, you'll likely pick one or more of these areas in which to specialize. You might also learn how to develop professional practices, market your work or build a portfolio.

Additionally, most BFA programs include courses in art history and theory, as well as general education courses with an emphasis on liberal arts. You might also take advantage of opportunities to study abroad or minor in a related field, like fashion design or photography. Most BFA programs include a senior project component. Senior project workshops usually last one semester or one year and may involve working with a professional artist.

You can also prepare for a career as a professional artist by building your portfolio or a collection of your best work. A good portfolio may be required for admittance to many postsecondary art programs. An artist's portfolio is considered vital for getting work; for example, clients will likely want to see examples of your work before hiring you for a project. An internship or apprenticeship is also an option for building your portfolio and enhancing your artistic skills.

What Will My Job Involve?

Your job as a professional artist will primarily be creating 2- or 3-dimensional pieces for exhibition or sale. You might specialize in a particular medium, such as paint, clay or metal, or you may mix media or art forms. You might create works to exhibit and sell in museums and art galleries, or you may have clients who commission you to create pieces specifically for them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only a small percentage of very successful artists make a living on art sales alone ( You might earn supplemental income from one or more part-time jobs, perhaps working in a museum as an art curator or helping with exhibits. With the appropriate training and certification, you might earn a second income as an elementary or secondary school art teacher, continuing to sell your work on the side. Or, you could work another job that's not related to art at all.

How Much Could I Earn?

The job outlook for fine artists is slower than the national average for all jobs, according to the BLS. From 2014-2024, employment in this field is expected to increase by only 3%. Although keen competition is expected for most jobs, clients and employers will continue to look for new and individual talent in years to come. You'll enjoy the best job prospects if you exhibit natural talent and have mastered the necessary artistic skills and techniques.

Working as a sculptor, painter, illustrator or other type of fine artist, you might expect to earn about $54,170 per year. This was the mean annual salary for all fine artists as of May 2015, according to the BLS. However, many professional artists don't earn a regular salary. Earnings of self-employed or freelance artists vary significantly, and you may not get much for your work until you've gained experience and established a reputation in the art community.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers, as well as woodworkers, are some of the closely related alternative job opportunities for those with a high school diploma. Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers design, create and sell original pieces of jewelry. They may use precious stones, gems, metal and other materials in their work. Most of these workers also offer repair services, and some may even appraise precious stones for customers. Woodworkers typically create useful, everyday objects and products out of different types of wood. They make things like cabinets, furniture 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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