Art and Design Careers

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By Christina Payne

Published on August 31, 2020

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Graduates can find many careers in art and design, including animation, fashion, graphic design, and film. Many art and design careers also include a business component, such as marketing or sales.

This page explores common art and design careers, as well as projected career outlooks. Readers can also find information about certification and continuing education options.

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Career Paths in Art and Design

Art careers encompass a broad field of subjects, from art history to interior design to illustration. Professionals typically choose a specific concentration in college and hone their skills for that particular industry. Below, readers can find some design career options, along with a general job description for each.

Animation

Animators create moving images for various types of media, including film, television, video games, commercials, and websites. Typically working in illustration or computer animation, they often work as freelancers or with animation studios.

Explore Animation Careers

Art History

Art history examines the cultural representations found in works of art throughout history. Students in art history programs learn how to analyze pieces of art to prepare for jobs in museums or other cultural institutions.

Explore Art History Careers

Fashion

Fashion professionals design and produce various types of clothing, typically working for design companies and clothing brands. They usually need a bachelor's or associate degree.

Explore Fashion Careers

Film

Film students gain the skills needed to critically analyze films and create their own works. Film professionals typically need at least a bachelor's degree and may work in directing, editing, and/or production.

Explore Film Careers

Game Design

Game designers work as part of a team to create video games and other playable content. Some game designers focus on coding, while others work on graphic design. These professionals typically need a bachelor's degree.

Explore Game Design Careers

Graphic Design

Graphic designers communicate their ideas visually by using images, symbols, and text. They may design any object in which visual information is communicated, such as magazine covers, product packaging, signs, websites, advertising, and corporate logos.

Explore Graphic Design Careers

Illustration

Illustrators draw and paint images that communicate concepts for use in media, such as books, magazines, posters, video games, and advertisements. A bachelor's degree helps students develop the technical illustration skills -- like scale, human anatomy, and use of color -- necessary to excel in this career.

Explore Illustration Careers

Interior Design

Interior designers create or revise interior spaces to maximize aesthetic harmony and functionality. Working with commercial and residential spaces, they also oversee construction and implementation.

Explore Interior Design Careers

Photography

Photographers capture snapshots of the world around them. These professionals can work for established publications or freelance. Photographers typically only need a high school diploma, but they may also pursue a postsecondary degree to develop advanced skills.

Explore Photography Careers

Art and Design Career Outlook

Many careers in art and design require a bachelor's degree, including most positions in fashion design, interior design, and graphic design. Even employers that don't require an advanced degree may prefer candidates with an associate degree (or higher) over candidates with only a high school diploma.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers data about job growth, median annual salaries, and the typical education requirements for an entry-level worker in this field.

Career outlook for art and design careers depends on several different factors, such as location and demand. The BLS reports that median annual salaries for art careers range from about $28,000 (for floral designers) to about $94,000 (for art directors); there is a lot of variation depending on the career path.

Art and Design Employment in Your State

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How to Start a Career in Art and Design

Though some design careers accept entry-level professionals with only a high school diploma, readers should consider earning a postsecondary degree in art and design. Even careers with a lower education requirement typically prefer candidates with more training and education. Students can earn art and design degrees at community colleges or four-year universities.

In most cases, graduates only need an associate or bachelor's degree to begin their careers in art and design. However, many colleges offer master's or doctoral programs for art and design majors. Students interested in teaching at the secondary or postsecondary levels should continue their education beyond a bachelor's degree.

Education

Students can earn four types of advanced degrees in art and design: associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral. Associate degrees require the least amount of time, while doctorates typically take the longest. Readers can find more information about degree options below.

Associate Degrees

As an entry-level degree, an associate prepares you for entry-level art and design positions. While this degree does not lead to advanced positions, it can expand employment opportunities in fields like fashion, photography, and graphic design. This degree also provides a basic overview of major skills and concepts in the field, which can build a foundation for further study.

The main advantage of an associate degree is its low cost and quick completion time. With just two years of full-time study, you can earn an affordable degree that enables you to pursue employment in the arts. Many schools also offer associate programs fully online, allowing you to work while in school.

For many art students, an associate degree is the first step in their professional and academic journeys. To qualify for most careers in art and design that offer real advancement potential, you need at least a bachelor's degree. However, an associate program can serve as a trial run for arts education, helping you to determine if you want to commit to a career in the field.

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree offers an overview of the arts while conferring specialized knowledge in areas like game design, art history, or animation. A bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement for most design-related careers, teaching you the skills needed to pursue a variety of positions with potential for advancement. It can also function as the next step toward a graduate degree, such as a master's or doctorate.

The curriculum of a bachelor's program offers extensive knowledge in your field of study, preparing you for entry-level and mid-level positions. However, many advanced careers in design, including managerial and leadership roles, may recommend or require a master's degree. For example, a bachelor's in art history typically prepares you for entry-level roles in a museum or gallery, but if you want to work as a curator or gallery director, you may need to earn a master's degree.

Many colleges offer bachelor's programs either partially or fully online, which may allow you to continue working while pursuing a degree. Some schools also offer special tuition discounts for students who complete their degrees entirely online.

Master's Degrees

A master's degree is necessary for some art and design careers, as it offers advanced knowledge and skills in one focus area. Graduate study builds on the skills gained in a bachelor's program, often conferring mastery of one artistic area, such as interior design or film. Most programs require two years of full-time study.

A master's program typically provides advanced knowledge in a specialization, and many programs emphasize leadership skills, preparing students to assume management roles upon graduation. Master's degree-holders may pursue a variety of advanced positions, such as gallery director, museum curator, animation supervisor, artistic director, or executive producer.

Some master's programs occur partially or primarily online, making it easier to balance school work with a career. Other programs offer intensive, accelerated enrollment options for students looking to complete their degrees rapidly.

Master's programs often include experiential components that enable you to gain practical experience in a professional setting. For example, you might intern at an art museum as part of an art history program or with an animation studio as part of an animation program.

Doctoral Degrees

A doctorate is the highest level of education attainable in the arts, conferring the most advanced knowledge and skills in a highly specialized area of study. This degree requires significant dedication, including several years of study, the completion of rigorous exams, and an extensive final project -- typically a dissertation.

Most doctoral programs have a highly academic focus, and the degree isn't commonly available for all areas of art and design. For example, technical fields, like graphic design, fashion, and interior design, rarely require a doctorate. However, many schools offer doctoral programs in more academic subjects, like art history or film studies.

Earning a doctorate prepares you to teach at the college level, and most programs require you to concentrate in one area of study. For example, in an art history doctoral program, you might focus your studies on contemporary or Islamic art. A doctorate can also prepare you for executive positions in the field, such as chief curator at a major museum or director of a cultural agency or nonprofit.

Certifications and/or Licensure

Some professionals need certification or licensure to pursue their art and design careers. These requirements prove to employers and customers alike that workers meet certain professional standards set by the industry.

Certain design careers, such as interior design, may require licensure depending on the professional's state of residence. Other art careers, such as photography, only require certification if using certain types of technology (e.g., drones).

Not all careers need certification, but those that do set their own requirements and regulations. Professionals should always research the licensure requirements for their state of residence and chosen art and design career.

Continuing Education

Continuing education can take many forms for professionals in art and design. This form of professional development typically does not lead to another degree, though some programs and classes may offer certificates of completion.

Professionals often pursue continuing education to advance within their current careers or to prepare for a switch to a new career. Continuing education courses provide an opportunity for art and design professionals to learn new skills, theories, and techniques in their field.

Some art and design careers require continuing education. For example, many educators need to meet continuing education requirements set by their state of residence to keep their teaching license. Other careers in art and design that require certification may also require continuing education to ensure professionals keep their skills sharp.

Professionals can pursue paid or free continuing education opportunities. Readers should consider researching massive open online courses (MOOCs), in particular. MOOCs offer free classes and are often hosted by top universities.

Art and design professionals can also look for certificate programs or continuing education units (CEUs), which may be available in online or in-person formats. Individuals can find these programs at community colleges or four-year universities. Most postsecondary institutions charge a fee for certificate programs and CEUs.

Next Steps

Professionals should always consider ways to grow and advance in their chosen art careers. Networking and professional development opportunities at conferences allow established workers, recent graduates, and current students to explore new techniques and develop working relationships with their peers.

Networking remains an essential part of career advancement. Workers should consider joining a professional organization to gain access to networking events, conferences, and forums where like-minded students and graduates can meet and discuss their work.

Almost every field offers its own professional organizations, while some allow for broader membership. AIGA, the professional association for art and design, boasts the largest and oldest professional organization for design, with more than 18,000 members.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is art and design a good career?

Design careers include many fields, from interior design to film. Each job presents its own career and salary outlook. The BLS offers statistics on many different art careers. Readers should thoroughly research the requirements and outlook for their intended career path to determine how well a specific art and design degree might suit them.

How do I start a career in art and design?

Many professionals begin preparing for their careers in art and design in college. Postsecondary institutions offer art and design degrees that teach students the skills, knowledge, and techniques they need to thrive in the professional world. Advanced degrees also make applicants more attractive to prospective employers.

What are the highest-paying art and design jobs?

Salaries can vary widely depending on a worker's location, experience, and job title. However, the BLS reports that art directors earned a median annual salary of $94,220 in 2019 -- the most lucrative position in the field. Other design careers with high-paying yearly salaries include multimedia artists and animators ($75,270) and fashion designers ($73,790).

Is there a demand for art and design professionals?

The demand for particular art and design careers depends on several factors, including location. The BLS projects 1% growth -- much slower than the national average -- for careers like art director and fashion designer from 2018-2028. However, the projected growth for multimedia artists and animators over the same time period is 4%, which matches the national average for all occupations.

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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