Artists can work with a variety of media and in many industries. These professionals employ creative skills and technical training to communicate, inspire, and entertain. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals in the art and design field earn a median annual salary of $49,600.
Some professionals earn even higher salaries. For example, art directors earn a median salary of $97,270. Although overall employment for occupations in the field is declining slightly, prospects are stronger for some occupations, such as multimedia artists and art therapists.
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Earning a degree in art can help individuals secure positions in an increasingly competitive job market. Many schools offer on-campus and online art programs at all levels. A two-year associate degree in art or design qualifies graduates for many entry-level positions. A four-year bachelor's degree can lead to additional opportunities. Artists seeking advanced training or high-level career options can pursue a master's or doctoral degree.
What Can I Do With an Art Degree?
While some artists create purely aesthetic works such as paintings and sculptures, artists play crucial roles in many industries. Designers, illustrators, and multimedia artists work in areas such as advertising, manufacturing, publishing, and entertainment. Art teachers help students of all levels cultivate art literacy and proficiency. Curators and museum technicians maintain collections in museums and galleries. Medical, technical, and forensic artists create precisely rendered, scientifically informed illustrations and models.
A degree in art can help graduates exhibit their work in galleries or secure employment in business, education, or the nonprofit sector. Students refine their technical abilities, learn to navigate the art world, and develop self-promotion skills. Although many art positions do not require a degree, a college education can make job applicants more competitive.
Accreditation for an Art Degree
Students researching online art programs should verify each institution's accreditation status. The voluntary accreditation process requires a comprehensive review by a third-party agency with approval from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Accreditation demonstrates that the school meets educational quality standards.
Colleges and universities in the United States can hold regional or national accreditation. Students attending schools with either type of accreditation can qualify for federal financial aid. Regional accreditation requires institutions to meet more rigorous standards than national accreditation.
Nonprofit, academically oriented institutions typically receive regional accreditation. For-profit, vocational, and religious schools often seek national accreditation. Many graduate programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited school.
In addition to institutional accreditation, learners can look for programmatic accreditation. Many reputable art programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design. Prospective students can find the accreditation status of any school or program using the searchable database from the U.S. Department of Education.
Frequently Asked Questions About Art Degrees
Graduates of art programs become fine artists, commercial artists, designers, teachers, and curators. They can also work in nonprofit and art-oriented business settings.
Bachelor's degrees in art typically require four years of full-time study. Students with previous college experience or advanced placement credits may graduate sooner.
Associate-level art students can pursue an associate of arts or associate of applied science degree. Bachelor's students can earn a bachelor of arts, bachelor of fine arts, or bachelor of science. Master's programs include master of arts and master of fine arts options. There are also Ph.D. options available to these students.
Art majors practice studio techniques and explore diverse media. They also study contemporary and historical art issues and develop a portfolio of original work.
What Are the Requirements for an Art Degree?
Admission requirements for art programs depend on the type of institution. Art schools frequently require freshman applicants to submit a portfolio, along with typical application materials such as transcripts, test scores, and a personal essay.
Most schools allow all accepted students to enroll in lower-division art courses. However, learners may need to undergo a portfolio review before advancing to upper-division art courses.
Art programs usually require a final project, such as a senior portfolio, thesis, or exhibition. Due to the field's hands-on nature, many online art programs incorporate some on-campus components, such as summer studio intensives.
Courses in an Art Program
Art programs balance theory and practice, helping learners cultivate foundational knowledge to support their artistic growth. Core courses often survey diverse artistic methods and allow students to explore various media and techniques. Studio classes and independent projects provide opportunities to hone technical skills and develop an individual artistic style. Classroom courses examine key issues in art history and contemporary art.
By their junior year, learners typically choose a concentration such as painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, illustration, or digital media. Upper-level electives focus on the student's chosen medium, culminating in a body of original work which the learner presents as an exhibition, installation, or portfolio.
- Introduction to Drawing
- An essential skill for artists of all kinds, observational drawing demands mastery in rendering light, shadow, perspective, and space. Many art programs require students to take basic drawing classes, regardless of their area of emphasis. This course often focuses on still life and figure studies in black-and-white media such as graphite and charcoal. Learners develop proficiencies in perception and visual organization. As a final project, students may create a themed series of drawings.
- History of Art
- Most online art programs include art history courses to help students sharpen writing and visual analysis skills. Enrollees cultivate field-specific vocabulary and gain historical context for their own work. Learners examine the cultural, social, and political contexts of major art movements. Art history courses may focus on specific time periods or parts of the world. This research-based class translates more easily to an online format than many art courses.
- Issues in Contemporary Art
- This course examines key topics, themes, theories, and trends in the evolving and interdisciplinary contemporary art world. Through discussions, readings, critiques, and lectures, students gain an understanding of late 20th and early 21st-century art. Learners explore the influence of new media and materials on artistic production. They also investigate the relationship between art and social change. Coursework may examine topics including multimedia art, installations, digital media, and photography.
- 3D Design
- Often part of a core sequence including classes in 2D design and time-based art, this course explores the broad discipline of 3D design. Coursework covers sculpture, industrial design, and architecture. Learners examine design techniques, spatial organization, craftsmanship, and related problem-solving techniques. Students evaluate the roles of color, materials, structure, form, and texture in 3D artworks. The course covers traditional and nontraditional 3D media and processes.
- Professional Practice
- This upper-level course prepares emerging artists to enter the professional art world. Coursework introduces a variety of professional practices for artists and creative entrepreneurs. Students learn to develop portfolios, plan exhibitions, negotiate contracts, and market themselves. Degree-seekers practice their writing and presentation skills by developing resumes, cover letters, artist statements, and grant proposals. The class typically includes discussions, readings, guest speakers, and gallery or studio visits.
Certifications and Licensure for Art Majors
Obtaining certifications or professional licensure allows graduates to demonstrate mastery of advanced subjects. These credentials can help job-seekers expand their employment prospects and enter specialized areas of the field. Some professions, such as art therapy and art education, require state licensure to practice. The following list includes a few certification and licensure options for artists.
Forensic Art Certification
Forensic artists use knowledge of anatomy, psychology, and accurate rendering. These professionals may create composite images based on witness testimony, generate postmortem reconstructions, and modify and enhance images. The International Association for Identification grants this certification to forensic artists who have two years of experience and have completed approved training.
Adobe Certified Expert
Used extensively in photography and graphic design, Adobe programs include Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom, and Illustrator. Artists and designers can pursue Adobe Certified Expert designation to enhance their resume, improve their proficiency, and secure positions teaching Adobe skills. Candidates must pass a multiple-choice exam.
Board-Certified Art Therapist
Art therapists incorporate art into an integrated counseling practice. Licensure requirements for mental health professionals vary by state, but many art therapists pursue board certification in addition to state licensure. Individuals seeking board certification need a master's degree in art therapy, must complete a supervised residency, and must pass a comprehensive exam.
Professional Organizations for Art Majors
Professional organizations often provide opportunities for networking, career advancement, and continuing education. Working professionals and aspiring artists can join these organizations. Many associations serve a variety of art professionals, while others cater to those working in a particular medium, style, or niche. The following list highlights a few organizations for students enrolled in online art programs.
College Art Association of AmericaCAA administers grants, graduate student fellowships, and achievement awards. The association also hosts an annual conference and publishes two journals. Members receive discounts and access to the organization's research database and job board. Students pay a discounted membership rate.
The Society of IllustratorsThis group provides a venue for members to network and exhibit their work. The organization operates a museum of illustration, judges several annual competitions, and awards competitive and prestigious scholarships. The society offers membership at several levels, including tiers for early career illustrators, established professionals, and students.
Women's Caucus for ArtDedicated to supporting women in art, WCA supports members through professional development, community building, and social activism. The organization maintains a diverse membership of artists, students, collectors, and allied professionals. Members can participate in exhibitions, find mentors, attend WCA's annual conference, and apply for grants and awards.
Association for Medical IllustratorsAMI serves visual artists working in medicine and life sciences, including illustrators, animators, and graphic designers. Membership benefits include a mentorship program, career guidance resources, and access to AMI's online community. The organization also oversees board certification of biomedical visualization professionals. Student members must be enrolled in a science or art program.
Earning a degree in art requires a significant financial investment. Fortunately, students can fund their college education through financial aid, such as scholarships. Art majors may qualify for art-specific scholarships and general scholarships based on factors such as academic achievement and financial need.
Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Graphic Arts, a professional association for designers, awards this scholarship to undergraduate and graduate students majoring in graphic design, illustration, or photography. Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA, must demonstrate financial need, and must submit a brief autobiographical statement. Candidates with minority status receive preference.
Who Can Apply: Krylon Products Group offers this scholarship to high school seniors and college freshmen and sophomores pursuing a visual art degree. Ineligible majors include graphic design, digital art, and photography. Applicants must submit an artist's statement, transcripts, a recommendation letter, and a portfolio of 3-6 pieces.
Who Can Apply: Open to high school seniors who plan to study visual art, this scholarship honors the legacy of P. Buckley Moss, an artist with dyslexia. Applicants must demonstrate a verified language-related learning disability and financial need. They also need a nomination from a P. Buckley Moss Society member. Application materials include transcripts, personal essays, and a portfolio.
Best Online Art Schools and Degrees 2021
Founded in 1853, UF is a public research university and a member of the State University System of Florida. The university's Gainesville campus houses one of the largest university art museums in the southern United States.
UF's online master of arts in art education program blends art education theory and practice with studio experiences. The 36-credit curriculum prepares learners to work as art educators in classrooms and community settings. Students explore historical and contemporary issues in the field, and the program culminates with a research-based capstone project or thesis. Learners can complete the program entirely online, or they can take optional on-campus studio classes during summer sessions.
Applicants need a bachelor's degree in a related field and must submit a writing sample and a digital portfolio. UF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The art education program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
A large public research university, Mizzou is the flagship institution of the University of Missouri System. The school began offering correspondence courses in the early 20th century and launched its online division in 1997. Mizzou offers its master's degree in art education in a blended format, which is ideal for practicing teachers seeking career advancement.
Degree-seekers can complete most of the 32-credit program online, but learners must take nine credits of core courses on campus. Coursework explores topics such as research methodologies, curriculum development, visual literacy, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Most students complete the program in about three years.
Applicants need a bachelor's degree, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and at least two years of teaching experience. The College of Education is accredited by the Teacher Accreditation Council. Mizzou is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
An evangelical Christian university, APU enrolls students online, at its main campus in Azusa, California, and at seven satellite campuses throughout California. The private university's low-residency master's degrees in art and art education integrate artistic practice with Christian faith.
Students in APU's 37-month master of fine arts program spend a month on campus during each of three consecutive summers. The 60-credit, cohort-based program involves faculty mentorship, independent studio work, and peer critiques. Enrollees explore the relationship between art and Christianity, and learners plan and mount an exhibition of their work.
The university also offers a 30-credit master of arts in art education. This program features courses in research methods, curriculum development, and studio practice. Degree-seekers complete two on-campus, weeklong practicum experiences along with a capstone research project.
APU is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The university's art programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Established in 1826, MICA is the nation's oldest, continuously operating art college. The Baltimore-based school offers a low-residency master's degree in art education designed for working artist-educators. Students in the 14-month, cohort-based program learn online during the spring and fall semesters and complete two six-week summer residencies.
In addition to studio work, the 34-credit curriculum includes coursework that explores writing for publication, teaching strategies, and historical and contemporary issues in art education. Students submit papers to peer-reviewed journals, complete a capstone professional development seminar, and present a thesis. Applicants must submit personal essays and a digital portfolio.
MICA also offers online master of professional studies programs in the business of art and design, data analytics and visualization, and UX design. MICA is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
A small private college, MCAD enrolls about 800 students annually. One of the region's top visual arts colleges, MCAD delivers innovative programs such as fully online master's degrees in sustainable design and graphic and web design.
MCAD's 30-credit master's in sustainable design prepares students for careers in design, marketing, architecture, and urban planning. Core courses examine principles of sustainable design, including systems thinking, collaboration, creative leadership, and business integration. Learners explore niche topics through electives and an independent thesis project.
The 30-credit master's in graphic and web design trains students in graphic design theory and practice; web development, design, and programming; motion design; and UX design. Full-time students can complete either master's program within two years. MCAD is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Based in Charleston, EIU ranks among the Midwest's top public universities. Distance learners can earn an art degree in about two years through the school's online master's program in art education.
The 33-credit program offers two options, each tailored to applicants with specific professional backgrounds and goals. The art education option admits certified art teachers who want to enhance their teaching practice. EIU designed the community arts option for working professionals who plan to pursue careers in community arts education.
Students in either track explore artistic learning across the lifespan. Weeklong, on-campus summer residencies provide opportunities to explore new media and techniques in the studio. The program culminates with a research project and comprehensive oral exam.
The university's education and art programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. EIU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A large public research university, ASU enrolls nearly 120,000 students annually across five campuses and its online division. The university offers multiple online art programs at the bachelor's and master's levels.
Bachelor's students pursuing an online art degree can major in fields such as digital photography, museum studies, art history, and graphic design. The interdisciplinary arts and performance bachelor's program synthesizes visual, performing, and digital arts through coursework spanning traditional and emerging media. ASU also offers bachelor's and master's programs in graphic information technology and film and media studies.
Distance learners can access online services including library resources, academic advising, career counseling, tutoring, and health consultations. ASU offers six annual start dates and asynchronous coursework to help students balance their education with personal and professional obligations. All online students pay the same tuition rates, regardless of residency. ASU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Founded in 1884, NSU is located in the historic port city of Natchitoches. Graduate students can earn an art degree online through the school's low-residency master of arts in art program. All online students pay the same tuition rate, regardless of residency.
The 33-credit program features online classes during the spring and fall semesters. Learners must attend either two three-week summer sessions or one full semester on campus. Courses explore a variety of media, including painting, drawing, design, photography, crafts, sculpture, ceramics, and commercial art. Classes in art history and contemporary art provide a theoretical background to complement learners' studio practice. Graduation requirements include a thesis exhibition and comprehensive exam.
Applicants must submit a portfolio, a letter of intent, and an artist's statement. NSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The university's art programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
A public community college based in Los Altos Hills, California, Foothill offers two associate degrees in art. Learners can pursue a stand-alone associate program or an associate degree for transfer (ADT) program. Designed for students planning to transfer to a bachelor's program within the California State University System, the ADT program fulfills lower-division requirements for many studio art bachelor's programs.
Each track requires 90 credits of coursework, including general education requirements in humanities, social and natural sciences, history, and communication. Major classes introduce art history topics and provide opportunities to explore media including drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, photography, and digital art.
With an open-door admission policy, Foothill does not require applicants to hold a high school diploma. Distance learners receive online access to academic counseling, virtual tutoring, and library resources. Foothill is regionally accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
BU offers classes online, at its main campus in Nebraska, and at community colleges and military bases in four states. This private, open-access institution accepts all applicants with a high school or GED diploma. Military students pay a discounted tuition rate.
Distance learners can earn an art degree through the school's online graphic design program. Catering to working professionals, the 127-credit bachelor's program helps learners develop the skills necessary to launch careers in design, marketing, and communications. Degree-seekers study topics such as print and web design, typography, and branding. During a capstone course, students assemble a professional portfolio and learn how to write a resume and promote themselves professionally.
General education requirements for all BU undergraduate students include the Kirkland Signature Series, a nine-credit course sequence that explores political, social, and cultural values. BU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.