Art Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Art?

Earning an art degree can lead to a number of career fields. In addition to traditional degrees in the visual and fine arts, many applied arts degrees can lead to employment in modern forms of art and media. Courses in graphic design, animation, music and more can be found online or at traditional on-campus schools.

If you have a particular talent or passion that you’d like to nurture into a career, becoming an art major and obtaining some level of formal education is often the best way to start. Depending on your medium, building a career can be more or less challenging. However, if art is something you love, earning an art degree may be worth it for you.

Types of Art Degrees

In general, art degrees usually fall under one of two categories: Fine arts or media arts. A degree in fine arts can educate students in artistic fields such as theatre, film, sculpture, painting, music, and other performing and visual arts. Degrees focusing on the more commercial aspects of art are often considered “media arts.” Concentrations like graphic design, interior design, and animation are found under this umbrella.

An art degree can be earned at every level of education, from certificates to doctoral degrees. Many colleges and universities offer several of their art programs online. Although performing arts don’t generally translate well to an online environment, courses in art history and theory can easily be taken online. Students focusing on concentrations in the media arts will find almost any level of degree program online. Earning an online art degree is great for adult learners and students who have families of their own. Online programs give these students the opportunity to study at a time that is convenient for them, allowing them to meet the demands of their prior work or family commitments.

Certificate and Diploma Programs in Art

Because “art” covers a broad variety of topics, colleges and universities often offer a wide range of undergraduate certificates in art-related fields. Certificates in art history, studio art, digital art, graphic design and more are available to interested students. These types of certificates show that a student has taken additional courses and obtained specialized knowledge beyond that of a basic undergraduate degree. Depending on the certificate focus, courses may include:

  • Basics of Visual Studies
  • Concepts in Visual Arts
  • Fundamentals of Drawing
  • Introduction to Computer Graphics

Associate Degrees in Art

Students interested in art careers have a number of options for degrees at the associate level. Students can choose to study traditional studio art, or they might pursue their art degree in a media-related niche. Earning an associate degree generally requires two years of full-time study. Online degrees in some visual and studio arts programs might require an on-campus component. Degrees in the media arts or in art history and theory may have no such requirement. Associate degree courses can include:

  • Art History I
  • Introduction to Ceramics
  • Fundamentals of Painting
  • Foundations of 3D Art

Bachelor’s Degrees in Art

Earning a bachelor’s degree in art is an excellent first step for those students aspiring to careers in art, art history, or other art-related fields. Additionally, a bachelor’s degree program is an important step for a student who is considering furthering their art education at the graduate level. Bachelor’s degree programs generally require four years of full-time study prior to graduation. These programs can also help students build a broad base of knowledge by requiring the completion of general education requirements. Some typical courses for an art major at this level might include:

  • Integration of Art and Design
  • Drawing for Design
  • Art History
  • Art and New Media
  • Intermediate Visual Studies

Master’s Degrees in Art

Students pursuing a master’s degree in art often use the degree to advance their career as a practicing artist or as a way to find employment in the academic field. Most master’s degree programs in the field culminate in a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Students seeking an MFA generally specialize in a specific concentration, such as photography, graphic design, painting, or sculpture. Depending on the area of concentration, some online programs may require an in-person component. Core courses at the master’s level may include:

  • Contemporary Issues in Art
  • Typographic Methods
  • Advanced Color and Space
  • Methods for Moving Images

Doctoral Programs in Art

Ph.D. programs in art are generally reserved for those students seeking advanced research positions within higher education or artistic organizations. Students study the role of art in culture, both on a national and global scale. Ph.D. candidates are usually required to first earn a master’s degree in a related subject. Most doctoral programs also require the completion and defense of a dissertation prior to graduation. An on-campus residency may also be required. Common courses at this level include:

  • Quantitative Research Methods for Art Education
  • Visual Culture and Literacy
  • Strategies for Visual Thinking
  • Visible Learning Strategies

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Art?

Possible careers for an art major are relatively wide open. Careers in the visual arts generally require a solid background in arts education, on-the-job training, and experience. Therefore, an art degree can cross over to any number of different fields. Exceptions to this may include advanced research positions or teaching positions in higher education. These roles typically require graduate-level degrees.

Although an art degree is relatively flexible, keen competition can be expected for both salaried jobs and freelance work. Many talented people are attracted to the visual arts, so you should be tenacious in your job hunt. Possible job opportunities for art majors include:

Craft and Fine Artists

Craft artists create functional goods, such as glassware and pottery, through handmade means. Fine artists like painters and sculptors create art that is meant to be appreciated for its aesthetic value. Both types of artists may display and sell their work in stores, online, or in galleries and museums.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Artists learn and hone their craft through experience and repetition. Most fine artists choose to pursue some type of formal education, typically a bachelor’s or master’s degree. These programs can also help build an artist’s portfolio. Additionally, those seeking positions in art education will need to obtain a formal degree.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Except under special circumstances, no license or certification is needed. Those seeking teaching positions must meet the proper licensing and certification requirements of their state.

Graphic Designers

These professionals develop and create the overall concept and design for a variety of visual tools and applications. Graphic designers choose or create images used in advertisements, corporate reports, magazines, and more. They are charged with making these visuals appear appealing, and must be familiar with relevant computer applications and software needed to produce a great looking product.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: To obtain entry-level employment, graphic designers are usually expected to earn at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Although licensing and certification is typically not required, graphic designers are expected to be proficient with computer programs and applications relevant to the field. Many graphic designers continue to receive sporadic training on these technologies after graduation.

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers

Archivists, curators, and museum workers can generally be found working in art museums and galleries. Curators are in charge of collecting art, while archivists process and record artistic works and important documents. Other museum workers, such as conservators, treat and repair deteriorating historical works.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: A master’s degree in art history is usually required. A master’s degree in art conservation is required for conservator positions, and a bachelor’s degree is generally required for employment as a museum technician.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Although it is not generally required, archivists may obtain certification through the Academy of Certified Archivists.

Multimedia Artists and Animators

Multimedia artists and animators are found working in a variety of industries, including cinema, television, video games, and more. They meet with clients and create both two-dimensional and three-dimensional designs to meet their needs. Multimedia artists and animators rely heavily on computer applications and programs to assist in developing their models.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related artistic field is generally considered the minimum educational requirement for most animators and multimedia artists. Relevant work history and a portfolio are also highly preferred.
  • Special Certifications and Licensures: No special certification or licensure is needed, although some firms may train employees on the particular programs needed to satisfactorily complete their work.

Art Salaries and Career Outlook Data

Total Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Craft Artists4,640$38,740
Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators12,350$63,030
Museum Technicians and Conservators13,190$48,030
Special Effects Artists and Animators29,340$84,780
Graphic Designers215,930$56,510

Art Associations and Organizations

After graduating with an art degree, students can join a number of associations and organizations offering professional support and advocacy. Listed below are some of the most popular:

  • National Art Education Association (NAEA) — The NAEA is a professional organization of art educators practicing at all levels. They seek to advance the interests of art education in schools and promote greater understanding around the globe. This organization also advocates for public policy proposals and learning tools for art educators.
  • AIGA — Formerly known as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the AIGA changed its name in 2005 to be more inclusive of all design disciplines. The association supplies resources for designers and helps to set the standards for ethics and practice in design.

Article Sources


  1. Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  2. Craft and Fine Artists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  3. Graphic Designers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  4. Multimedia Artists and Animators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
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