What can you do with an art degree? You’ve probably asked this question or know someone who’s asked you. Usually, it’s an attempt to understand the different career options available to an artist. After all, jobs in the art field aren’t mentioned much in high school, leading some to wonder how many opportunities actually exist and whether you can truly carve out a viable career path.

The good news is that careers in the art field are abundant! You can find plenty of jobs that are not only fun, stable, invigorating, and full of creative people but also well-paying. There is a world of possibilities for anyone who enthusiastically pursues an art degree and career — and if you want to explore this world, you’ve come to the right place! This article will provide you with details about various jobs in the art field and other important information to know so that you’re set up for a fulfilling career.

Is the “Starving Artist” Idea a Myth?

photography is one of the many careers in the art fieldOccasionally, we hear people ask or talk about the “starving artist” idea, which is why we have to address it before going any further. The most important thing to know is that the “starving artist” concept is a myth. There are many art students who’ve graduated college and found jobs in their field, and data proves it. 

The Kennedy Center published findings from a survey conducted by the Strategic Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). The survey attracted responses from over 13,000 people who either had a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree in an artistic field. According to the data, 92% of alumni who wanted a job currently have one, and 81% found jobs soon after graduating. The best part? Most of them work as artists. The survey found that 65% of respondents have careers in the art field!

A few other reassuring findings that prove the “starving artist” idea is fiction include the following:

  • Two-thirds of alumni said their first jobs closely aligned with the work they originally wanted.
  • 54% of respondents working outside the art field said their training in the arts is relevant to their current job, meaning creative and artistic skills are transferable. 
  • 63% of respondents are self-employed, and 14% of alumni founded their own companies.
  • 90% of art graduates said their college experience was either good or excellent, meaning they have no regrets after school. 

Without a doubt, it’s possible to have a thriving art career after graduating college. Even if you stop working in the art field at some point, your creative skills and training will be assets that transfer to your next role. So, don’t worry about becoming a “starving artist.” It’s unlikely to happen. With enthusiasm, a good work ethic, persistence, and a thoughtfully crafted portfolio, you can land a job as an artist after college and enjoy creating pieces of art long-term. 

Different Careers in the Art Field You Can Pursue 

Regardless of your discipline, there are many full-time art jobs that you can pursue. That’s also true, regardless of whether you have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. Both degrees open the door to various art jobs. To give you a better idea of all of your employment options, below are different types of art fields you can work in, as well as the jobs and median salaries in each. 

Keep in mind that the salary data is provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Glassdoor and are based on people’s reported income. Consequently, the median salaries can fluctuate over time as more data is gathered. Also, please know that your annual pay for a job may be different from the median salary based on your experience level, location, education, and cost of living.

Fine Arts 

Fine Arts Jobs   U.S. Median Salary 
Painter $69,870
Illustrator $69,870
Ceramic Artist  $48,205
Sculptor $69,870
Craft Artist $53,140
Printmaker  $84,990

Art Museum and Art Business 

Art Museum and Art Business Careers U.S. Median Salary 
Art Auctioneer $65,251
Art Historian $56,984
Art Professor (post-secondary) $93,440
Art Teacher  $56,538 
Museum Conservator $79,968
Museum Curator $45,654 
Museum Educator  $54,089
Exhibit Designer $70,240
Art Gallery Director $65,877
Art Consultant $55,978
Art Appraiser $86,864
Artist Agent $62,554
Art Archivist $68,134
Art Therapist $98,929

Design / Digital Art

Design / Digital Art Careers U.S. Median Salary 
3D Animator  $87,134
Art Director $105,180 
Creative Director $109,699
Book Cover Artist $66,804 
Children’s Book Illustrator $51,665
Comic Book Artist $104,919
Graphic Designer $57,990
Multimedia Designer $75,952
User Experience Designer $97,290
Video Game Designer $103,909
Visual Effects Artist $91,773 
Web Designer $80,730
Web Developer $80,730


Fashion Careers U.S. Median Salary 
Costume Designer $70,145
Fashion Consultant $52,392 
Fashion Designer $76,700
Fashion Merchandiser $53,938 
Jewelry Designer $69,228 
Makeup Artist (theatrical and performance) $ 93,850
Shoe Designer $58,076
Textile Designer $75,569

Applied Arts 

Applied Arts Careers U.S. Median Salary 
Architect  $ 96,510
Landscape Architect $ 77,820
Product Designer / Industrial Designer $75,910 
Interior Designer $61,590

Visual Arts 

Applied Arts Careers U.S. Median Salary 
Photographer $40,170 
Film Director / Film Maker $85,320
Set Designer $68,490
Video Editor $62,420

These lists of careers in the art field are not a reflection of all the opportunities available! More roles are being created every day, as interests change, technology advances, and new skills are needed. So, you may find an exciting opportunity to pursue that’s not even mentioned in this article. 

There’s also a chance you decide to become a self-employed artist. With basic business skills, it’s possible to be self-employed and successful. Some graduates choose this route immediately. Others work at companies first to understand the finer points of business and experience life at a brand. What you choose will depend on your unique goals and situation. Just make sure that if you become a freelance artist, you take steps to get everything you need for a good quality of life (like health insurance). 

The Benefits of Co-op Programs 

Now that you know there are dozens of job opportunities available in the art field, we want to share some more good news: you can jumpstart your art career before you even graduate college! Multiple schools offer cooperative education programs, which are usually called “co-op” programs for short. These programs allow you to get hands-on professional experience in your field of study to test out different careers and sharpen and gain new skills. different careers in the art field to pursue

With a co-op program, you’ll work full-time at a company for one, two, or three semesters. Your instructors or advisors will use their connections to help you find employment. While you’re working, you won’t take or pay for classes at your school. However, you will earn college credit and get paid by the company employing you.

Say, for instance, you’re studying graphic design and want to experience jobs in your field of study. In that case, your co-op program would relate directly to graphic design. You’d get paid the going rate the company offers to those in your position. Then, after completing your co-op program, you’d return to school and start paying tuition again.

The only thing to keep in mind is that co-op programs will extend the number of semesters or years you’re an undergraduate, depending on the length of your employment. That means if you’re doing a co-op program for a semester, you’ll have to add a semester to your undergraduate schooling. This shouldn’t deter you from doing a co-op program, though. These initiatives are incredibly beneficial! In fact, here are some of the main advantages of doing a co-op program: 

  1. Your academic performance will improve from gaining on-the-job experience in your field of study
  2. You’ll get paid to work full-time, and it won’t interfere with your eligibility for need-based financial aid. 
  3. You’ll experience a more seamless transition from college to working full-time because you’ll have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to thrive as an employee in the art field. 
  4. You’ll make valuable connections with professionals in your field, opening the door to job opportunities in college. 
  5. You can do a co-op program multiple times to enhance your skills, try different jobs, and work your way up the hierarchy to get a more senior-level role after graduation. 
  6. You may be offered a job at the place you worked at during your co-op program if there’s a position available. 
  7. You’ll graduate college with a robust resume that’ll help you secure an art job more easily. 
  8. You’ll get a chance to live in a new city or country (because co-op programs can be anywhere in the world).

If you want to enjoy the learning experience and professional growth that’s available through a co-op program, there are colleges that offer them! Examples of schools include Drexel University, Northwestern University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Clemson University, and the University of Cincinnati. You can contact a college counselor — that would be us — for help applying to these schools. 

However, if you don’t apply to a college with a co-op program, you can still gain professional experience in school through an internship. This will be slightly different from a co-op program. Internships, for example, may be unpaid and will be part-time. Also, you might not earn college credit and will have to continue paying tuition. Despite that, internships are still a fantastic way to get industry experience, test different career paths, build your resume, and make great connections. So, don’t hesitate to apply for one!  

How to Get Your First Art Job 

When you’re trying to get a job, it’s helpful to use tried-and-true tips to land a position that excites you. Here are six strategies that you can implement to get an art-related role that best suits your skills and goals. 

1. Be proactive in finding a good fit

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to find opportunities! You can do this by showcasing your works of art on social media to attract recruiters. You can also identify companies you want to work for and reach out to them, even if they don’t have an open position that fits your skill set. You’ll at least gain contacts and be top-of-mind when a job is available, which will help you gain employment in the long run. 

2. Stay focused but be flexible

Have a goal in mind and work towards it. However, be open to taking a job that’s different but related to your ultimate career objective. There are various jobs in the art field. If the one you want isn’t available or you need more experience to get it, try something else that seems like a good fit and another step closer to realizing your dreams. 

3. Tap into alumni networks

One of the best ways to jumpstart a career in the art field is through referrals. If you join an alumni network, you may find job opportunities and people who are willing to refer you to hiring managers. This can be especially beneficial if your college is in a city known for a certain art discipline. For example, if you went to a fashion school in New York, joining an alumni network could lead to dozens of job opportunities since New York is known for fashion. 

4. Have a mentor

If there’s someone in the industry who’s willing to help and talk through different aspects of working in the art field, let them be your mentor! They can offer advice, guidance, and tips for finding and securing a great job opportunity. They can also connect you with people in the industry who need your skill set, leading to open doors and full-time employment!  

5. Attend career fairs

Every college has career fairs, and attending them can help jumpstart your professional journey. During these events, you can connect with companies, provide your resume, show your portfolio, and ask questions to determine whether you’d be a good fit. If you’re fully prepared and conversations with brands go well, some companies may ask to schedule a formal interview! 

6. Consider getting an MFA

Getting an MFA can be very attractive to potential employers. It can show that you have excellent creative thinking skills and the ability to approach business problems with art and design. These qualities are important to many companies. However, you don’t need an MFA to jumpstart your art career! It’s just worth considering if you want to have a more competitive resume. 

A Successful Art Career is Possible 

successful careers in the art field are possibleThe art field is full of jobs and there are various ways to secure one, whether you start in college with a co-op program or graduate and join an alumni network. With persistence and flexibility, you’ll eventually land your first job! 

But make sure you take steps to be successful in whatever role you secure. Meet your deadlines (even if they’re quick turnaround times). Develop great communication skills. Be a team player. Learn to pivot, and find a mentor if possible. By doing what it takes to be successful, you’ll experience a thriving art career full of opportunities, a high-paying wage, and a creative lifestyle. 

Do you need help preparing for and applying for art schools or universities with art programs? Contact our CEO Lorraine Serra at lorraine@portfoliocc.com for a consultation.