Written by S.M. Audsley

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” said Pablo Picasso. Becoming an artist often fulfills a deep calling that happens at an early age, but trusting, and working towards answering that call can be challenging, especially in our fast-paced modern-day lifestyle that craves productivity and monetary gain. Almost all parents will gasp in alarm when you tell them you want to get an art degree -- it’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but then again anything worth working towards, or anything you truly feel passionate about, always involves some sort of risk. And going to art school or pursuing an artistic degree can actually be the most profound, personally gratifying experience, as well as an opportunity to hone your skills to work in the world as (yes!) a professional artist.  

 

“Most arts-related degrees prepare their students for the world of work leaving them with a portfolio at the end, and many further supplement their degree education,” writes Tess Reidy for The Guardian. Building up a strong portfolio, gaining real-life work experience through an internship or work-exchange, are just some of the ways that an art degree allows you the time and space to create work and gain experience that can help launch your artistic career. 

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of many books, including Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, explains how you might avoid attaching monetary value to your art and creativity. She writes, “But to yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.” Ultimately, the reality is that everyone needs to pay their bills, rent, and buy groceries. Is the stereotype of the “starving artist” still a reality today? Not necessarily. 

According to a recent editorial in The Guardian, “Research last year found that non-Stem graduates were just as likely to be in graduate-level jobs by their late 20s.” This dispels the myth that humanities degrees are bad investments. In fact, they can even be one of the ways you can give yourself an edge in a competitive job market. It’s important to remember that a bachelor’s degree, regardless of the discipline it is in, still holds a lot of value. According to BBC.com’s Amanda Ruggeri, “in the US, for example, a bachelor’s degree holder earns $461 more each week than someone who never attended a university.”

And more good news -- there are many jobs and careers for those who want to pursue an art degree and many can be both lucrative and satisfying, as well as designed to utilize your creativity and advanced artistic skills. Any degree is an important investment in your future, and that includes an art degree. There is no clear path from art school to professional artist, but there are probably more job opportunities and niche markets than you think. Let's take a look at five careers you can go into with an art degree.

1. Illustration

An illustration degree will help you build up a portfolio of work, provide opportunities for internships, and get you ready to launch yourself into this field. Illustrators can work for companies or organizations that have interesting projects; often as the main illustrators on a creative team designing and curating a project. Some illustrators are also able to build successful freelancing careers, taking on a diverse range of projects and managing their own schedules. 

“Illustration and teaching happened almost at the same time. I had the chance to illustrate for a children's book when I started teaching in 2007. I was also working as a freelance illustrator, and I slowly built my base, skills, knowledge and confidence,” says Lee Kow Fong, professional illustrator and author of children’s books. Fong went on to pursue a master's degree in art and continues to build his career as an illustrator.

2. Photography

If you are more into composing images through a lens, then studying and working in the wide-ranging field of photography is for you. Professional photographers are skilled at composing images and also have specialized skills in post-production. Art school will allow you to hone these skills and give you the time and space to stretch your creativity in many diverse ways. Knowing how to use programs such as Adobe Pro, which photography degrees will typically train you in, will give you a big leg up in the professional market. 

“Employment [for photographers] will grow faster than the average of all occupations between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at about 12%,” according to The Balance Careers. An employer of professional photographers is looking for you to be specialized and shine in artistic ability, self-promotion, interpersonal and communication skills, and attention to detail. There are many ways to specialize as a professional in photography. Some specializations and careers in photography include advertising, corporate, editorial, fashion, fine art, and social photography, also known as general practice, which includes weddings, commercial, and portraiture photography. 

A career as a photographer can be a challenging, constantly changing, and rewarding career path. For example, B. A. Van Sise combines his love for writing and imagery --he writes books and is a photojournalist, features photographer, and a skilled portraitist.  Tate Delloye writes in the DailyMail.com that Van Sise got his degree in Visual Arts and Modern Languages from Fordham University. His first job after graduating college was at Newsday in Long Island where he switched from analogue photography to digital. After working in publishing for a few years, he left to pursue work in what he called a ‘company company.’ He found spending time in an office was not his passion and he eventually left corporate America to "follow his first love of photography". A career path like this could be yours, too, as a professional photographer. 

3. Artist

An art degree might automatically mean you will become an artist, right? The coveted label might seem out of reach to you now, but many professional artists are successful and have long productive careers as artists. Many artists work long hours, honing and perfecting their craft, and develop a body of work to show in solo or group shows in galleries and museums. 

One such example is successful New York-based artist Jean Shin, who has exhibited her work and installed large scale installations, often utilizing the collaborative power of community art. Shin says, “I'm always attracted to objects that have the potential to be reimagined differently from their current use or value in our society.”

Part of an art degree is making connections, networking, and developing a group of friends and peers who can support your work. "I interned with three galleries and got a lot of experience with the behind-the-scenes work like art selling and handling, even down to things that are good for the website and marketing. When you're working for free [at an internship], you want to make sure you learn something,” said artist Tony Ingrisano, interviewed in Business Insider. An art degree can help you gain the skills you’ll need to succeed in this competitive market -- not only will you hone your artist skill of choice, but you will also likely gain invaluable knowledge of the business side of the art world.

4. Fashion design

Are you a fan of Project Runway, the reality TV show that showcases fashion designers competing for the top prize? Art school doesn’t just mean drawing, painting, or photography. If dressing the human body in diverse forms and materials is your preferred canvas, then perhaps a degree and career in fashion design is for you...

To date the most successful Project Runway winner, Christian Siriano, who coined the much (over?) used term “fierce”, continues to dominate the fashion world with his designs. “In the years since his television debut he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for outfitting women of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life in decadent fashion, but he has refined his aesthetic considerably. Still not a minimalist by any stretch, he’s hit a sweet spot with red carpet fare and dramatic suiting,” reports Janelle Okwudo for Vogue.com.

Do you really need an art degree to work in fashion? “College gives you a significant period in your life where your main focus is to study, experience and experiment with fashion,” says i-D contributing features editor, James Anderson. He adds, “It’s a time to let your knowledge, skills and confidence grow, with the space, time and support to really find out who you are, what you are good at and what you really want to do. It’s also an opportunity to meet lots of like-minded people, and people very different to yourself, and often make lifelong friends too. All of that is invaluable.” In art school, you will learn valuable skills, both conceptual and practical, as well as develop a strong supportive community of peers and friends.

5. Interior design

Is arrangement and spatial aesthetics more your jam? Professional interior designers utilize their artistic prowess and skill to create concepts and design interior spaces in homes or commercial venues. Working as an interior designer, you might meet with clients, draft ideas or come up with color palettes, source materials and goods, and so much more. You will also be up on the latest trends. 

A day-in-the-life for a designer might include the following: “Before they carry out any work, interior designers meet clients to discuss their requirements. They look at the existing space, take measurements and discuss clients’ views on the look, feel and function of the area. Designers provide clients with a statement summarizing their requirements and then prepare and submit initial recommendations in the form of sketches or written proposals. When clients have approved their proposals, designers can move to the detailed design stage,” writes Ian Linton for Chron.

In art school you will develop your portfolio, get a sense of your own style and aesthetics, and practice working in the field through internships or apprenticeships. Because interior design is a competitive business, Shelley Little for Freshome.com recommends that you create an amazing portfolio of work. She explains, “Another important factor is acquiring an extensive education. The more you know, the better off you will be. Consider looking toward future trends such as population growth, designing for the elderly, modern architecture and green design; education within these specific fields of design will give you the upper hand in the job market.”

If you are still on the fence about going to art school, consider what Albert Einstein once said: “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” As a prospective art degree student, and future arts professional, you will want to research to find the best program for your needs. But, whatever degree program you choose, or whatever you end up specializing in, you can look forward to a fulfilling and wonderful start to a lifelong career in the arts. What’s stopping you? Follow your creative impulses to an arts-stounding career!

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