Careers in Art Working as an Artist in the New Millennium

Expert Contributors
Annika Connor Painter Read More
David Gallaher Comic Book Writer Read More
Lyle Salmi Associate Professor Read More

The most important traits a prospective artist should possess are talent, passion, and drive

Annika Connor, Painter

Who we are as artists is a combination of all of our experiences, the more things you experience, the stronger your voice will become as an artist.

David Gallaher, Comic Book Writer

Career Paths in Art

Art is an expansive field comprised of multiple disciplines, ranging from music to painting, industrial design to the performing arts. Below, prospective artists, performers, designers and musicians alike can explore different professional training and programs that prepare them for profitable careers in art-related fields.

The inherent creativity found within the various branches of art means that future artists can paint, draw, sketch, design, and fashion any number of distinct employment paths. Below is a list of potential employment options open to individuals interested in a career in art.

Graphic Design

Graphic design is a sweeping profession, one that has fluid boundaries between its different career paths. The field itself is concerned with communicating ideas through visual and textual mediums. A rapidly changing field, the rise of digital media and the Internet have introduced emerging career opportunities in design.

Visual Designer

Visual designers are concerned with how a website looks and feels to the user. They produce the elements (e.g. icons, graphics, buttons, and images) that users see on a website or mobile device. Visual designers employ design principles, such as typography and iconography, as well as the use of space, color, and texture, to craft innovative and engaging visuals.

User Interface Designer

Known as UI designers, these professionals understand how design impacts a user’s experience and interaction with a website. Employing skills in graphic design, audience analysis, and website architecture, user interface designers develop wireframes that determine how the site visually communicates the site’s layout and user’s interaction with that layout.

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers use their knowledge of design elements, art, and technology to create visual concepts that are used in traditional mediums, such as print advertisements, and new mediums, such as websites. In their role, graphic designers help identify how to best translate an idea into a visual message and communicate that message to different audiences.

Music

Music is a broad and dynamic field, one that includes a diverse array of potential career avenues outside of becoming a musician. Music covers a spectrum of professional areas, such as composition; production and engineering; film scoring; music composition; music therapy; and music education.

Composer

Composers work with music, creating and arranging musical scores for a variety of uses. These compositions span musical genres (e.g. jazz, country) and may be developed for live or recorded purposes. Composes may create the soundtrack for a commercial or video game, develop a musical score for an orchestral performance, or write a composition for a musical performer.

Conductor

Conductors prepare and direct musical ensembles and orchestras. They control musical performances, bringing together the members of the orchestra, setting the tempo, and shape the overall interpretation of a piece of music. Conductors may also select an orchestra’s musical catalog, schedule and manage rehearsal performances, promote performances, and even coordinate entire seasons of musical performances.

Arranger

Musical arrangers determine and assemble the different components of a musical composition, such as the tempo, structure, voice, and instruments. Selections are made based on the needs of the particular composition and the performer, whether an individual artist, orchestra or band. Skilled in musical theory, arrangers understand the latest trends in music and may work across genres.

Fashion

A career in fashion is usually associated with design. However, design is not the only available career avenue. For individuals who don’t have an interest in sewing or sketching a design, fashion is also home to diverse opportunities in sales and marketing, merchandising, production, public relations, retail, and journalism.

Fashion Merchandiser

Fashion merchandisers combine their sense of style along with a knowledge of sales and marketing to buy, sell, and promote fashion. A diverse occupation, fashion merchandizing involves directing marketing campaigns and sales strategies in boutiques, with fashion designers, retail outlets, or apparel manufactures.

Visual Stylist

Also known as Visual Merchandiser, visual stylists plan, create, and decorate merchandise displays in department stores and other retail establishments. This includes elements such as window displays and holiday decorations—presentations designed to improve the sales of fashion merchandise.

Fashion Designer

Fashion designers create fashion apparel for men, women and children, as well as accessories such as handbags or scarves. They study fashion trends, create unique designs and materials and are responsible for the development of a piece of clothing from inception to production. A varied field, some fashion designers work independently, while others may work for a manufacturing firm or fashion design house.

Q&A with David Gallaher, Comic Book Writer

Q

Why did you choose to pursue a career in art?

AI always loved writing and telling stories. I first started a career in theatre in high school, actually.  When I was looking at colleges though, I wanted a back-up plan, so I double majored in neuroscience and education. Those skills gave me the opportunities to teach special education for the Maryland Public School System. After five years of working with delightful students, but frustrated by the politics, I wanted to do something a little more creative. Comics and theatre were always my first love — and having already worked in theatre, I thought I’d give making comics a try. 

Q

Do you have formal training? If so, what type? Where did you go to school?

AIn college and later in graduate school, I took several classes in art, visual narrative, theatre, screen writing, creative writing, film, poetry, and fine art. At the time, there were not of people majoring in comic books and graphic novels. I attended Hood College for undergrad and later Goddard College as a grad student. 

Q

How did you end up in the world of comics? Why did you choose that field?

ADuring one of my classes in grad school, on a lark, I illustrated my resume as a six-panel comic page. Complete with word balloons and everything. I faxed it to Marvel Comics and a couple of days later, I was offered one of their internships in the interactive department, where I helped pioneer new ways for people to read comics. I always loved Marvel’s heroes, even as a child, so it was a nice opportunity to do something different with my life and inspire others in stories. After Marvel, I went to work for the New York City Police Department, as a copywriter and found my way back into comics just a few years later, writing projects like High Moon and Green Lantern for DC Comics and creating independent properties like Box 13 and The Only Living Boy with my own studio, Bottled Lightning. 

Q

What are some of the key skills and attributes you’ve developed as you’ve gained professional experience?

AOne of the things that I think has benefited me a lot is having a diverse range of personal experiences to bring to the stories I tell. For me, comics — and especially superhero stories — were always about helping others. During my time with the NYPD and as a teacher, I got to see a lot of remarkable things happen first hand. Several of those experiences were integral to the stories that I told. Real life experiences absolutely helped me find my voice. 

Who we are as artists is a combination of all of our experiences, the more things you experience, the stronger your voice will become as an artist. 

Q

What advice do you have for a prospective student considering a degree or career in an art-related field?

AIt takes more than talent to be a success. It takes a mixture of luck, resources, contacts and discipline. More than that though, it takes fire. You have to love the work. That grit and self-determination will be more essential than anything else. 

Q

What is your favorite part of working in comics?

AI love making the best comics I possibly can and I love helping others to do the same. I think that’s ultimately my favorite part. 

The Artist’s Life:
Attributes & Skills to Being an Artist

While creativity is the cornerstone of any artistic profession, artists need to develop a range of complementary skills central to their chosen craft, whether in art, music, fashion, or related field. Below is an overview of the different types of skill sets required for three divergent career paths: Artist, Curator, and Creative Director.

Artist
Artists are storytellers that use different mediums (e.g. paint, sculptures) to create a piece of art that tells a narrative.
Skill Description
Composition Artists must have knowledge of composition techniques, such as the rule of thirds, to control how a viewer sees and engages with an image.
Visualization The ability to imagine how objects will appear when moved, altered or rearranged is crucial when designing the layout of an image.
Perspective Perspective controls how and where objects are placed within a picture and artists should have skills to work in different perspectives, such as one-point and two-point perspective.
Value Value determines the brightness and darkness of an image and artists used value to distinguish between objects in an image.
Color Artists use color to tell stories and convey emotion and they should be able to leverage color to control composition and perspective.
Lighting Lighting is a major element of image creation and artists should understand how to use lighting to create depth within an image.
Curator
Curators research, cultivate, oversee and manage collections (e.g. artwork, historical artifacts) for museums, libraries, government agencies and other organizations.
Skill Description
Project Management Curators must have keen project management skills to handle different projects, from cataloging to arranging the restoration of an artifact
Communication The ability to communicate clearly is valuable as they may present research findings, lecture about a piece of art, or work closely with colleagues on presentations
Strategic Thinking and Planning An understanding of how to acquire, organize and design exhibits of artistic collections
Writing Curators need strong writing skills to craft grant proposals, develop publicity materials, write institutional reports, or journal articles
Administration and Management Curators should have skills in management and administration as they may train and manage staff, supervise interns, and oversee a budget
Research A core skill, curators should be experienced researchers in their field of study (e.g. Roman artifacts)
Creative Director
Creative directors shape the creative standards, vision and style of an agency, marketing department or other organizations.
Skill Description
Originality The ability to generate new, fresh and unique ideas about different topics
Active Listening Creative Directors should be able to listen closely to clients and ask appropriate questions to drive creative discussions.
Problem Solving An understanding of how to identify complex problems–whether in design or branding–evaluate options and devise solutions.
Decisive Creative Directors need to be able to provide clear direction when it comes to design.
Detail-Oriented Creative Directors must be able to comprehend the big picture of a project, knowledgeable about market strategy, demographics, and analytics.
Creativity Design skills in color, form, and typography, are important for a Creative Director to possess in different design mediums, including graphic, visual, and multimedia design.

Q&A with Annika Connor, Painter

Q

Why did you choose to pursue a career in art, specifically painting? 

AFor me being a painter or not was never really a choice. My passion to paint has always been so strong inside of me driving me into the studio and taking over my imagination that the choice to do anything else but paint was never really an option. 

Q

Are you formally trained? Where did you complete your training? 

AI have a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

Q

What’s the professional world of painting like? Is it possible for prospective painters to find a place where they can earn a living? 

AYes, it is very possible to earn a living as a painter. I do and many of my friends who are professional artists do. That said it is never easy to survive from a life built on the arts. As an artist you are the creator, but to be successful today you must also be very ambitious, driven, and work very hard. You must be determined enough to be able to deal with instability as hanging on through the hard times is often what defines the difference between those who succeed and those who fail. 

Q

What are the biggest mistakes aspiring artists typically make and how can they avoid them?

AThe biggest mistake I see in young artists making is when they act unprofessionally. For example, some artists are very difficult to work with: they never respond to emails in a timely manner, they don’t send curators the images requested in the time frame asked, and they are unprofessional when it comes to sales. This is a very bad behavior to develop. 

As someone who has worked as an artist, a curator, a publisher, and an entrepreneur I can tell you that when I encounter artists like that I immediately cross them off my list of people I will potentially work with again in the future. However, if an artist is easy to work with and views the business side of the studio practice in a professional manner, I find it so refreshing that I often go out of my way to bring additional opportunities to that artist as I know she or he will make the most of them. 

Artist Salary & Employment Growth Snapshot

Employment growth is projected to be varied among the numerous professions within the arts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Across the industry, the BLS expects 7 percent job growth nationally between 2012 and 2022. Below is a look at the employment outlook for three unique art careers—multimedia artist, graphic designer, and fashion designer.

Occupation Median Salary Job Growth Growth Outlook Education Required
Fashion Designer $64,030 -3.0% Declining Bachelor’s degree
Graphic Designer $45,900 6.7% Slower than average Bachelor’s degree
Multimedia Artist $63,630 6.3% Slower than average Bachelor’s degree

Earning potential is an important issue to consider when thinking about a future career in the arts. Salaries not only by occupational path, but by experience and geographical location. The map below highlights three specific career paths—multimedia artist, graphic designer, and fashion designer—and illustrates the salary opportunities present in different states.

Annual Median wage, Artists

Related Careers

The beauty of art as a profession is its diversity, presenting a multitude of potential career paths in any number of areas, such as photography, fine art, digital media, spatial design, fashion, graphic design, and writing. Below is a list of art-related careers worth considering.

Q&A with Lyle Salmi, Associate Professor

Q

Why should students consider a career in art?

AFirst off, personal and professional satisfaction. Artists and creatives in all fields cite the satisfaction of finding ways to work in creative fields or to work with creativity in any type of work.

Secondly, many recent studies cite the value of having an education in art, from increasing an individual’s overall intelligence, to being more insightful, empathetic, and socially/culturally aware. The study of the arts promotes a life of meaning and value.

Q

What art fields are experiencing growth?

ACertainly computer art & design, graphic design, videography/photography, game design, lighting design, and interior design are all expanding fields. Today’s artists make use of social media more than ever before. Other potential career options include: Multimedia Specialist, Film Director, Curator, Product Designer, Art Director, Museum Director, Art Teacher, Art Therapist, Medical Illustrator, and Systems Designer.

Q

Are there lesser known art career avenues that students should consider to explore?

ASocial media is ever expanding, there is always a need for someone with art training and computer/social media skills to help shape the largely visual virtual world. Game designers must also have a sense of visual/aesthetic concepts, along with the technical skills. Add to that some psychology of perception/human behavior and you can see the value for creating and building upon patterns of behaviors.

Q

What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career in art?

ABe flexible and nimble. While it is important to learn to use the various technologies, do not overlook the traditional skills of drawing, creative thinking, problem solving, and being able to work with people. In addition to the technical or creative skills and techniques, the workplace requires good social and communications skills.

Art Career Resources

Professional associations and nonprofit organizations support the breadth of the arts—from interior design to graphic design—providing a range of resources that foster the growth of students and encouraging their development as artists. Below is a snapshot of some of the industry-specific associations and groups that provide student memberships, scholarships, and other forms of assistance to budding art professionals from every background.

American Institute of Graphic Arts

Known as the AIGA, it is the leading professional membership organization for design professionals and currently has more than 25,000 members across 70 chapters. AIGA support students through student group communities—designed to foster student involvement in the design profession.

American Society of Interior Designers

With approximately 24,000 members, the ASID is one of the largest professional association for interior designers. The ASID provides student membership opportunities, educational resources, and networking events.

Artist Trust

The Artist Trust provides a wide selection of professional development resources and links to organizations in topics ranging from art funding to employment, continuing education to promotion and marketing.

Art Libraries Society of North America

Founded in 1972, the Art Libraries Society of North America is an organization dedicated to the art librarian profession. Students can join and gain access to the member directory, attend conferences, and participate in a range of special interest groups.

Association of Music Producers

Created in 1998, the AMP focuses on the entire spectrum of music production, from development to product release. Offering different types of memberships, the AMP provides opportunities for networking and professional development.

Fashion Industry Association

The Fashion Industry Association offers free membership and has a goal of helping professionals and future professionals network—whether retailers, models, photographers, or makeup artists.

Graphic Artists Guild

A membership-based organization for creative professionals, the Graphic Artists Guild offers a range of resources, from the opportunity to post a member portfolio for potential clients to webinars and training sessions, industry news to career listings.

Industrial Designers Society

The professional organization for the industrial design sector, the IDS offers student membership, educational opportunities, college scholarships, networking events and other resources for its members.

International Interior Design Association

The IIDA offers a student membership program that helps future interior designers gain access to professional development opportunities not available on campus, including mentoring programs, networking events, a career center, design competitions, and student awards.

National Association for Music Education

The NAME is an arts organization that supports music education, advocating for resources at the local, state and national levels. Offering collegiate membership, NAME provides a range of student-focused benefits, including access to its journal, videos and other publications, as well as conferences and networking events.

New York Art Resources Consortium

The New York Art Resources Consortium includes the research libraries of The Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection and the Museum of Modern Art. Open to researchers, including students, the consortium also offers graduate student internships in specific areas, such as web archiving.

Society of Contemporary Art Historians

Dedicated to advancing the field of contemporary art history, the Society of Contemporary Art Historians provides career development resources for scholars and graduate students, including a graduate student advocacy committee.

Society of Illustrators

Founded in 1901, the Society of Illustrators promotes the art of illustration and supports the education and development of student illustrators through a student scholarship competition and membership benefits for student members.

The Association of Art Museum Curators

Students can participate in either an undergraduate and graduate student forum, with the future goal of establishing a membership program for future art museum curators.

Theatre Library Association

Supporting the work of librarians in multiple fields, such as theatre and dance, the Theatre Library Association promotes the development of future professionals through scholarships, access to student resources, and career opportunities in the industry.

Women Arts

Women Arts supports the work of women artists through a variety of resources, including an online directory of more than 1,500 female artists, funding resources, industry emails, and professional development activities.