Art Majors Guide

Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Study Art?

"Art" is commonly thought of in terms of the fine arts or commercial arts, but here we will look at the Arts & Humanities Degrees that are in between - taking parts of both fine and commercial art and applying them to specialist pursuits such as art history, arts education, and administration of arts. These careers include an extensive background in arts education with appropriate courses in business, teaching, or history.

Types of Art Degrees

Applied art degrees can cover a lot of media - painting, sculpture, graphic design, interior design, film & theater, and music, to name a few. If you have a particular talent or passion that you'd like to nurture into a career, some formal education is the best way to start. Depending on your medium, building a career can be easy or hard--but if it's something you love, it's worth it, no matter what. Here are just a few of your options for on-campus and online college courses in various fields of art.

Visual Communications and Graphic Design

This is an easy one (at least in terms of the job market). As technology gets more advanced and consumers get savvier, there's high demand for professionals with college degrees in visual communication and graphic design. Whether you prefer to work with print media or computers, you'll have opportunities in the fields of advertising, Web design, book publishing, TV and film, and much more.

Browse degree programs in graphic design.

Fine Art

When we think of starving artists, we generally picture painters, sculptors and performance artists. It can certainly be hard to make a living in these areas--but it's not hard to start doing it on the side. Many full-time artists start out as hobbyists, and only move into the field full-time when they have been doing it long enough to be sure of a steady income. The first step is an art course.

Browse degree programs in art.

Media Arts and Animation

Sometimes this can overlap in the industry with graphic design, but the important difference is that animators make their images move. From hand-drawn sketches to high-tech computer programs, animation is becoming an increasingly popular medium--especially in the video game industry. If you want your images to literally jump off the page, consider taking online college classes in animation.

Browse degree programs in animation.

Art Degree Programs for the Non-Artist

Undergraduate and graduate degrees in art

You don't have to be Picasso to succeed in a career in the arts. If you love the field but aren't nursing any particular talents of your own, what you'll want is an extensive background in arts education with appropriate courses in business, teaching, or history. Having a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) is a minimum starting point for anyone wanting to specialize in art history, arts education, or arts administration and management. To advance your career further, you will eventually need a master's degree or MFA. In three years or less, a master's degree can provide you with more credibility and give you an advantage in the job market at a management level; and enable you to oversee public programming.

You could start your academic training with generalist courses at the associate's degree level that provide a solid base of English, social sciences, liberal arts, as well as history, education, or business courses, depending on your future specialization. Training in computer techniques may also be offered. Computers are widely used in the visual arts, so technology training is critical for many jobs in these fields.

Art History

In art history, you learn to view not only the aesthetic and technical qualities of an art piece, but you study the cultural, historical, philosophical, scientific, and religious context of the society it was created in and the individual who created it. You see the how and why of each piece. Training in art history differs from archeology and classics, because it deals strictly with the formal visual assessment of an object of art. You develop a "visual literacy" and often focus on art in high culture - what is considered to be representative of refined taste and superior intellect in any given cultural or historical context.

Most art historians will specialize in one period or region, and take supporting classes to give them that extensive knowledge. Foreign language, classical civilization, anthropology, religion, fine arts and, of course, history classes are part of the art history curriculum. The best skills to have, on top of the obvious creative ones, are abstract reasoning ability and visual memorization.

Arts Education

Arts education degrees are perfect if you want to use your art background to work with other people. You should be creative, organized and able to inspire the creative expression of those you teach. If you want to teach fine arts at public schools you should have a teaching certificate in addition to a bachelor's degree, and a master's or doctorate degree to teach at the college level. Many positions within adult education, museums, social rehabilitation, and community programs do not require additional certification. Your courses will combine principles of art with teaching concepts. Art therapists also take specialized art courses and psychology to practice their trade.

Arts Administration

Arts administrators, arts managers, or artistic directors handle the business end of providing access to arts exhibitions and programming. They emphasize and enhance the role of the arts within the community, and the cultural and economic contribution the arts make to society. Arts management requires strategic planning, artistic creativity and social commitment - calling on management and financial education, knowledge of the artistic process and an awareness of the dynamics and educational needs of their communities. An arts manager should recognize the social, cultural, economic, political, technical and ethical contexts of art through his or her education in arts, education, business, and law.

Prerequisites for online, self-directed graduate study can include a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and a minimum of two years of paid or volunteer post-baccalaureate work experience in the nonprofit arts arena.

An advanced degree in fine arts or arts administration is necessary for management or administrative positions in government, in foundations or for teaching in colleges and universities. An example is the Master of Arts in Arts Administration (MAAA) that offers training in administrative leadership. Coursework will further explore financial management of public arts programs, fundraising, staff and volunteer management, and public relations. Some programs will have on-campus residency requirements.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Art?

Career Specializations within Art

The job prospects for art majors are relatively wide open because the main credential employers are looking for is your solid background in arts education and your on-the-job training and experience. For example, art historians, arts managers, and arts educators can all compete for a museum curator job if they have the right work experience. Employers can teach you the specifics of the job after you have your art degree, which shows them you have learned how to think about art.

At the same time, keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance work, because many talented people are attracted to the visual arts--without a steady increase in available positions. You should prepare to be flexible in your job hunt.

Possible job opportunities for art history, arts educators, or art administration majors include:

  • Antiquarian Book Trade
  • Antiques Dealer
  • Architectural Conservation
  • Art Gallery
  • Art Investment
  • Artist Representative
  • Art Law
  • Art Librarian
  • Arts Organization Consultant
  • Curatorial Consultant
  • Freelance Collection Manager
  • Museum Work
  • Preservation and Conservation
  • Publishing
  • Teaching
  • Visual Resource Curator

Art dealers use their business and social skills to sell art and to develop a stable of artists to represent. They establish a reputation for good taste and talent to provide a win-win situation for both the artist and the buyer. Starting salaries are about $32,000, but with growing credentials the average salary is about $75,000 after five years in the business, depending on the location.

Museum curators oversee permanent collections and new acquisitions for their institutions. They usually specialize in particular media, eras, or locations. They will work on a team to decide on what is displayed and how to present supporting materials such as guidebooks or information plaques.

Arts educators at a museum will design and arrange various educational programs - classes, workshops, lectures, tours, and outreach programs for school or community groups. Previous studies in history or anthropology can enhance your presentation, as can your interpretive and interpersonal skills. You will need to relate to diverse groups of people, so polish your written and oral communication skills for everyone from the wide-eyed preschooler to the well-heeled arts patron.

Art Certification and Licensure

No specific certification exists for arts administrators, art historians, or arts educators. To teach art in the public system or to work as an arts therapist, you need further education and professional certification in those fields.

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