Highlighting creativity and imagination, the field of art and design attracts creative professionals of all types. Most careers in art and design focus on producing creative works, such as paintings, sculptures, furniture, clothing, or films. Some careers focus on the study and curation of artistic objects, such as art history. Regardless of the path you pursue, the field offers unique professional opportunities and challenging, creative work.
Most students pursue careers in the art and design industry out of artistic passion and a desire for engaging work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects careers in art and design to grow about 4% through 2026, which is slightly below the national average. However, many related careers can expect a higher growth rate. For example, positions for multimedia artists and animators are projected to grow by 8%.
This guide offers an overview of careers in art and design, including education requirements, potential career pathways, and professional resources.
Art and Design Employment by State
Art and design opportunities vary by region. In general, most opportunities for artists and designers exist in major urban areas, particularly in creative hubs like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. However, many cities around the country offer opportunities for creative positions.
When considering potential job markets, it's useful to weigh career opportunities against the cost of living. Major markets like New York and Los Angeles come with some of the highest living expenses in the country. Many artists increasingly choose to work online while living in more affordable parts of the country.
Art and Design Employment Snapshot
Educational Paths to a Career in Art and Design
A bachelor's degree provides entry into many art and design positions, but an advanced degree enables you to pursue more competitive jobs with greater responsibility and higher salaries. Below is an overview of four art and design degrees, along with corresponding career options.
As an entry-level degree, an associate prepares you for entry-level art and design positions. While the degree doesn't provide opportunities for advanced positions, it does expand entry-level employment opportunities in fields like fashion, interior design, and graphic design. The degree also provides a basic overview of major skills and concepts that 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. For most careers in art and design with 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.
A bachelor's degree offers an overview of the arts while conferring specialized knowledge in areas like art history, illustration, or film. A bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement for most design-related careers, giving you the skills to pursue a variety of positions with potential for advancement. It can also function as the next step toward an advanced degree, such as a master's or doctorate.
A bachelor's degree 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 allows you to continue working while pursuing a degree. Some schools also offer special tuition discounts for students who complete their degrees entirely online.
A master's degree is necessary for many 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 animation or filmmaking. Most programs require two years of full-time study.
A master's program typically offers 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 with a career. Other programs offer intensive, accelerated enrollment options for students looking to complete their degrees as quickly as possible.
Graduate degrees 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.
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. The 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.
Career Paths in Art and Design
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.
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.
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.
Film students gain the skills 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, or production.
Graphic designers visually communicate 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, or corporate logos.
Illustrators draw or paint images that communicate concepts for use in media, such as books, magazines, posters, video games, or advertisements. A bachelor's degree helps students develop technical illustration skills -- like scale, human anatomy, and use of color -- necessary to excel in this career.
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.
Interview With a Professional
Keli Spainer graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 2005. Keli founded Colette Paperie in 2008, when she was just a young pup getting excited about paper goods alongside her regular "day job." Little did she know that, so many years later, her cards would be in over 300 stores worldwide.
Greeting cards seemed an obvious choice because she was already one of those freakish people who kept 50 cards on hand for when the situation arose to send it. Over time, she noticed that the market was missing truly funny cards. Whenever she looked under the "funny" category, she was nearly always disappointed. She wanted people to look at her cards and actually laugh.
In her spare time, Keli teaches calligraphy and lettering to anyone who wants to learn it, and also teaches why hand-lettering skills are a great asset to any business.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in art and design? Is it something that always interested you?
It kind of fell in my lap. When I was 18, I did things much more spur of the moment than I do as an adult. My last year of high school was punctured by my mother being diagnosed with cancer, and I think it ended up being a turning point for me to focus on things that kept my hands busy.
- How is an art and design program different from other college majors?
This depends on whether you are going to an art-specific school or pursuing a design degree from a larger university. If you're attending a university, you'll need to complete very different prerequisite classes than if you're attending a specialized art school. Plus, art schools have much more technical, skill-specific classes. It's very different at every school, so this isn't the rule.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree?
Probably as miserable as any other degree. I had jobs at big corporations for about five years before launching my business.
- Why did you decide to start your own business? Is this a common career path for art and design majors?
I started it because I was unhappy with the corporate job life. I do think a lot of designers begin their careers working for larger companies and eventually branch out on their own to follow their true passions. That has been true for a lot of my college friends.
- What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job? The most challenging?
The best part of my job is making my own schedule. When I'm feeling creative, I create. When I'm feeling productive, I produce. This has been the secret to finding my own balance of time instead of working for someone else who determined when I would do all of the aspects of my job. The most challenging is finding ways to give back to my community. We raised enough money to build a play area at a local hospice a few years ago, and I'm having a lot of trouble finding a new cause that speaks to me.
Professional Resources for Art and Design Majors
CaFÉ enables users to search competitions, calls for public art, art contests, residencies, and other avenues for artists to display their work. The site offers the ability to search by location, opportunity, eligibility requirements, and deadlines.
Art Opportunities compiles professional opportunities for artists working in any visual medium, including film, photography, illustration, and painting. The site requires a monthly membership fee of $5, but users gain access to listings for hundreds of residencies, grants, competitions, and other opportunities.
Artsy Shark helps working artists navigate the business side of the arts. The site offers advice and tutorials on topics including portfolio building, marketing, licensing, and publishing, along with information to help artists understand the gallery system.
A comprehensive resource for working artists, Artist Trust provides lists of grants, residencies, awards, and other opportunities. The site also hosts listings for studio spaces and housing for artists, along with practical resources covering topics such as legal issues, healthcare, and emergency support for artists.
Dedicated to countering the myth of the starving artist, The Abundant Artist offers an assortment of resources to help artists sell their work online. Along with free listings of websites and introductory tutorials on digital art marketing and selling, the site also hosts in-person workshops and seminars for careers in design.
One of the country's oldest, largest, and most respected professional organizations for design, AIGA boasts more than 25,000 members and 70 regional chapters around the United States. Members benefit from professional development opportunities, special events and workshops, an extensive job board, and discounts on professional services.
Founded in 1995, the NAIA supports artists who exhibit their work at galleries and craft shows, advocating for the economic well-being of working artists. The organization offers resources for gallery organizers as well as artists, working to ensure the equitability of gallery events and artistic transactions.
Founded to support women in the arts, WCA emphasizes education and activism. The group offers an assortment of resources for female artists, including grants, awards, mentorship, and member exhibitions and events.
Art Jobs offers a comprehensive database of professional opportunities for artists, including part-time, full-time, temporary, and internship positions. Users can search for jobs by type, category, and state.
A major job site for design professionals, Krop connects users to job opportunities with major companies like Nike, Netflix, Apple, and Tesla. The site also lets designers upload a creative portfolio, making it easy for companies to browse their work.