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Visual Arts Education and Training

Read about formal education and training options in the visual arts, including degree programs and areas of specialization. Find information on portfolio requirements, and explore online study opportunities.

What Types of Education and Training Are Available in the Visual Arts?

One way to obtain an education in the visual arts is by attending an art school or a program in art at a college or university. Education is available at the undergraduate and graduate degree levels. If you're just starting out and don't yet have a bachelor's degree, most colleges and universities allow you to explore your interest in art by taking a few classes, after which you could enroll in a program towards a bachelor's degree.

Many art schools and art programs offer emphases in photography, sculpture, painting, design and other areas. The classes that you take will depend on the school you attend, and will include electives outside of your area of emphasis, allowing you to experiment with different media and methods of working. An independent art school generally will allow you to focus more on studio work than a typical college or university art degree program. These types of schools may also provide more options in terms of majors or emphases; their lists may include such diverse areas as fiber arts, metalsmithing, fashion design and glasswork.

Art classes are also available at community colleges. There are generally fewer prerequisites and little to no competition for admission; you can often just choose from a list of classes that interest you.

Majoring in art education is one way to cover a range of art styles and media. A degree in art education prepares you to become an art instructor in an elementary or secondary school. Your training will consist of a combination of art and classroom pedagogy.

If you already have a bachelor's degree, you can apply to a master's degree program in art. Graduate art programs often culminate in a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in a specific area, such as painting or design, and contain a more concentrated set of studio courses and projects. MFA programs generally require a thesis or some kind of culmination project. A graduate degree in arts education is generally a Master of Arts or Master of Education.

Degree OptionsBachelor's and master's degree, art classes for personal interest
Areas of StudyArt education, painting, photography, sculpting, glasswork
Portfolio RequirementsRequired for some undergraduate programs, almost all graduate programs
Online OptionsOnline courses not for credit; hybrid programs
Median Salary (2018)$49,380 (for fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators)*
Job Outlook (2016-26)7% growth (for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Do I Need a Portfolio in Order to Get Into a Program?

Some undergraduate programs require a portfolio containing a certain number works that you have recently created, while other programs do not have this requirement. Portfolios are virtually always required for graduate school.

Can I Obtain a Degree in a Visual Art While Studying Online?

A wide range of degree and certificate programs in various art fields is available online, from art education to graphic design, photography and more. Other online courses are not for credit. These types of classes are usually meant for career training or personal interest.

It is also possible to seek a degree in a hybrid program, in which some classes are taken online and others are taken on campus. The online components for an art program ultimately vary with every school.