Careers in Art Job Paths & Potential Pay in the Pursuit of Art

It was Albert Einstein who said imagination is more important than knowledge. Fortunately for aspiring artists, imagination plays a big role in learning on the path to an art career. With the rise in computer-generated graphics, artists who can create animation and visual effects are in high demand. The following will help prospective art students learn about the various concentrations in art and the specific career paths to which they may lead.


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Career Paths in Art

Some careers in art, such floral design, require a high school diploma or the equivalent. Others, such as animators and fashion designers, require a bachelor’s degree. Whatever the path one takes, the variety of concentrations and specializations in art school are many – and can each lead to a variety of creative careers.

Multimedia Art

Once upon a time, multimedia artists and animators drew everything by hand. These days, much of the animation and visual effects are computer generated, which includes a new breed of artist and offers a whole new career path involving video games, movies, TV shows, cartoons, commercials and other forms of media. It typically requires a bachelor’s degree and a portfolio of the applicant’s best work in graphics and art that would apply to the job.

  • 3-D Animator

    Animators use software to draw, model and animate objects and characters in three dimensions in the digital landscape. Sometimes referred to as CGI, or computer-generated imagery, 3-D looks much more realistic. Animators can create long feature movies or skits, and some specialize in creating special effects for video games.

  • Video Production Specialist

    An audio-visual production specialists assembles, adjusts and operates cameras, microphones, lights and sound mixers with the ultimate goal of producing professional video presentations.

  • Website Designer

    Someone who is creative and technically inclined may do well as a website designer. This designer is able to understand what is needed and make a website that is functional, easy to use, and aesthetically appealing to the user.

Fine Art

Fine art goes all the way back to our prehistoric ancestors who drew on the walls and ceilings of their caves. These days, though, this type of art falls under the heading of “fine art.” Fine artists use a variety of materials and techniques to create art for sale and show. Much of fine art is functional, such as pottery and glassware; others are more aesthetic and include paintings, sculptures and illustrations. It helps to be a creative thinker who works best alone.

  • Sculptor

    Sculptors work in stone, metal, marble, clay, wood and other materials and are often commissioned by businesses, agencies and individuals to create a piece of art. Some pieces of art are busts depicting someone well-known in history or the community, and others are more freeform and consist of pieces of metal welded together.

  • Comic Book Illustrator

    Comic book illustrators create drawings, art and fonts for publication. The work can range from a one-frame picture to a whole comic book. Illustrators may work for large publishing companies or on a freelance basis.

Interior Designer

Interior designers create functional and intriguing spaces by determining space requirements and choosing decorative items using lighting and colors that complement. The ability to read blueprints and knowledge of building codes and inspection regulations are part of the job, as is a strong background in math and geometry. A bachelor’s degree is usually required.

  • Interior Designer

    Interior designers plan out a space and convey it to the client. They must be knowledgeable about materials and products that will be used to create and furnish the space, and about how texture, color and lighting give a space its look.

  • Fashion Merchandising

    Fashion merchandising is the promotion of apparel sales and involves developing campaigns, displays and advertisements; and marketing and creating sales strategies while staying on top of trends.

  • Web Developer

    Web developers design and create websites. They consult with supervisors and clients to learn the goals for a website, and then design the infrastructure and presentation elements accordingly. Web developers must have strong skills in programming languages as well as knowledge in graphic design and human-computer interaction. A high school diploma or associate degree may lead to entry-level positions, but most employers want candidates with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in computer science, web design or a closely related subject.


Photographers capture history through pictures, whether it’s a sunset, wedding or a major event. But there’s more to a career in photography than pointing and shooting — there are technical and artistic considerations to capture just the right moment on film (or digitally). Photographers often get a bachelor’s degree in fine art or photojournalism. A degree of patience is also recommended, as photographers can spend a lot of time waiting for that perfect moment.

  • Photojournalist

    The main role of a photojournalist is to be a visual story teller. Photojournalists can work for local news outlets and take photos of events in the community; others take photos of war and unrest in other areas of the world.

  • Wedding Photographer

    A wedding is typically one of the happiest days of a person’s life. Wedding photography involves taking photos of the ceremony, couple, guests, families, and poignant candid shots. A wedding photographer must keep their cool, as emotions tend to run high on wedding days.

Fashion and Textiles

Students in this major study the design, manufacture and marketing of clothing and other textile products. Forecasting hot trends, understanding the cycles of what’s in fashion and what isn’t, marketing and advertising, color combinations and material types are typically part of the fashion and textile major. Students will learn how to tell which fabrics are made well and which is the best for each project. A bachelor’s degree is usually needed for this concentration.

  • Interior Designer

    Interior designers plan out a space and convey it to the client. They must be knowledgeable about materials and products that will be used to create and furnish the space, and about how texture, color and lighting give a space its look.

  • Costume Designer

    Costume designers create the look of each character by designing clothes and accessories actors wear in a performance. Creative collaboration among the costume designer, director and lighting designer ensures the costumes work well in the performance.

  • Fashion Merchandising

    Fashion merchandising is the promotion of apparel sales and involves developing campaigns, displays and advertisements; and marketing and creating sales strategies while staying on top of trends.

Outlook & Salary Potential in Art

You don’t have to be the cliché of the starving artist. If you choose your career path wisely, you can get a great job that feeds your soul and your stomach.

The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012 – the most recent year of the study – artists could expect to make from $24,000 to $81,000 depending on their concentration and job. Floral artists earned the least and art directors earned the most. The job outlook for each concentration varies; for instance, in 2012, there were 74,800 art director jobs in the U.S., and the job outlook to 2022 was 3 percent, which is slower than average. The growth in employment up to 2022 was 2,200. There were about 260,000 graphic design jobs in 2012 with a median pay of $44,150. The job outlook from 2012 to 2022 was 7 percent, which is slower than average. The growth in employment up to 2022 was expected to be 17,400 positions. Yet suggests that employment of artists in general is projected to grow faster than average as the number of people with creative ability and interest is expected to exceed the number of available job openings. For instance, the demand for multimedia artists and animators will increase as websites use more detailed images in their designs and consumers demand more realistic video games and movie special effects.

Computer-Generated Imagery Average salary $61,370 per year or $29.50 per hour Growth outlook 6 percent
Fine Artists Average salary $44,380 per year or $21.34 per hour Growth outlook 3 percent
Photographer Average salary $28,490 per year or $13.70 per hour Growth outlook 4 percent
Interior Designer Average salary $47,600 per year or $22.89 per hour Growth outlook 13 percent
Fashion Designer 2012 employment 22,300 Growth outlook -3 percent

Art Salary by State

What you earn as an artist depends on where you live. The following graphic illustrates the top 10 average salaries by state for fine artists:

  • 1Arizona: $95,600
  • 2New York: $75,940
  • 3Washington, D.C.: $71,200
  • 4Connecticut: $70,070
  • 5California: $62,950
  • 6Pennsylvania: $60,470
  • 7Minnesota:$55,390
  • 8Kentucky: $52,850
  • 9Utah: $52,670
  • 10North Carolina: $48,880

Top Skills for a Career in Art

A good imagination is important for a successful career in art but it helps to have the right skills and know-how if you want to be successful, especially because there are so many paths to choose from in this career. Below are some of the most important skills an artist should possess:

Technical Skills

Anyone interested in graphic design or animation must know computer programs such as Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Acrobat, Dreamweaver and Flash. But just as the tools of the trade once included T-squares and waxers, these programs will also be replaced by newer tools, so it’s vital to stay on top of new technical developments.

Theory and Techniques

Knowledge of theory and techniques are required to produce works of visual arts such as painting and sculpture. Spatial relationships, composition, color contrast, shadow and lighting all play into the final product.

Develop Your Own Style

Each project may involve different concepts, but successful artists are able to leave their own mark of individual style on every project created. This means avoiding the trap of creating a certain style of art, be it painting, sculpture, animation or design, that’s popular at the moment.

Certifications & Licenses

Not all careers in art require specific certifications or even formal schooling; however, both of these may give a job applicant a competitive advantage over someone without formal training or designation.

Top 5 Certifications or Licenses for a Career in Art

  • Art Teacher Certification

    An art teacher certification indicates that a teacher has met a set of requirements to show he or she is qualified to help students express their creativity appropriate for their age group. Many states require that art teacher candidates pass the Praxis II: Art Content Knowledge exam.

  • Registered/Certified Interior Designer

    Not all states require licensure and board certification to become an interior designer. Check with your state to see whether it requires such certification to practice.

  • Graphic Design Certification

    Certification is generally available through software product vendors. Certification in graphic design software can demonstrate a level of competence and could provide a job applicant with a competitive advantage.

  • Art Therapy Certification

    Professional art therapists are typically master’s level practitioners who don’t necessarily need certification. However, new art therapists may be required to obtain a state license. To become a Board Certified art therapist, candidates must be certified through the Art Therapy Credentials Board. The American Art Therapy Association includes a 36-chapter network in the United States.

  • Certified Professional Photographer

    This program from the Professional Photographers of America assures clients of a photographer’s knowledge, experience and continuance of developing new skills. It’s not a necessary certification, but it works to help you stand out from the competitor down the street.

Emerging Careers in Art

Technology has been changing the way artists express themselves for a very long time. Where would the great painters of history be if portable tubes of paint had not been invented? And would Andy Warhol be as recognizable today if it weren’t for silkscreen printing? Even cartoonists, who used to painstakingly draw each movement by hand can get the job done faster with digital programming. Technological advances are helping create new career opportunities in a number of ways. Below are a few examples:

Video Game Designer

Computer games are more popular and accessible than ever, and advancements in technology have meant more challenging and engaging computer games. Game designers and graphic artists who can work in 2-D and 3-D are in demand for this career.

Aerospace and Automotive

More animators are finding employment with aerospace and automotive companies, working prototypes and concepts for demonstration and marketing purposes. Artists who choose this career sector build 3-D renderings and animations of systems such as transmission assemblies or engines, or design sequences of vehicles of aircraft in motion.

Art History App Creator

There’s an app for just about everything, it seems, including those than can communicate with the user. For instance, a museum might be running a specific exhibition and include printed descriptions of what visitors are looking at. An app specifically made for visitors can enhance their experience, such as through an audio description.

Career & Job Resources

Most artists are looking for a job in the field while they develop their own portfolio. There are many career options out there; one just needs to know where to look. These sources can be used to find a job, work at an internship or explore some of the most promising fields in art.

careers & jobs

  • 10 Artistic Careers with the Brightest Futures

    Ever wonder what art careers are the best bet for return on investment? The Huffington Post published this article to help guide you.

  • ArtBistro

    Historically, art careers are low-paying. This website provides a list of eight creative careers that pay more than $60k as well as the skills and education needed and the possible job growth.


    This website provides advertising and consulting services so you can turn your artwork into a profitable career. It also appraises pieces and provides articles and information for and from other artists and collectors.

  • GovernmentJobs

    If you want the stability and benefits of a government job, this site offers an up-to-date list of positions across the country. From professorships to managers of city art projects to seasonal positions, you’re sure to find something of interest here.

  • How to Get a Job in the Arts

    In this Forbes article, the author explores a variety of resources available for anyone looking for a job in the arts. While the article is a bit dated, the advice still holds true.

  • Incredible Art Department

    If you’re looking for a job as an art educator, this is the site for you. It also provides career advice, information on art schools and other resources to help both the educator and the student.

  • My Footpath

    Find job search tips, information about interviews and top careers in the art industry on this site. You’ll also find a long list of careers you can explore.

  • Quint Careers

    Here you’ll find a list of job boards for everything arts—from television and theatre to entertainment and graphics. And no matter what your degree is in, you’ll also find a list of possible careers for everything from humanities to visual arts.

  • Student Art Guide

    This website includes a list of 150+ art careers and spotlights real-life artists in many of these careers.

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