What Can You Do With an Art Degree?
If you’re creative and imaginative, a degree in art could be just what you’re looking for to express yourself. Art may not be a vocational subject – that is, one that leads to a specific career – but this doesn’t mean it won’t be a good preparation for the world of work.
Whether you choose to specialize in fine art or the history of art, the skills you gain during your degree are likely to be highly valued and transferable to many sectors, including specialized art careers as well as many general graduate roles. Alongside a range of practical arts skills, art graduates should also have good observational, analytical and research skills, including the ability to solve problems creatively and work well both independently and in groups.
In the majority of the art careers detailed below, you will find it essential or highly advantageous to have a varied portfolio of work to show prospective employers, including some of your own original ideas as well as coursework. The theoretical side of your degree should allow you to put this work into context, explaining your influences, the thought behind your choice of themes and why you used certain materials and techniques.
Be sure to network at every opportunity throughout your studies, and find ways to present your work in public spaces by entering as many competitions and exhibitions as you can.
Read on to find out more about which careers in art would best suit you, and how to increase your employability in these areas.
Typical art careers
Kicking off with perhaps the most obvious of art careers, there is no reason why you cannot pursue a career as a professional artist if you have talent and dedication. You will also need plenty of self-belief, stamina and the ability to promote yourself, as this is a highly competitive career path. Relevant work experience in the creative sector, such as working as a studio assistant, would be useful, and you should be resourceful in finding new and interesting places to showcase and sell your work to get yourself known. Some fine artists also decide to continue developing their work alongside work in a relevant full- or part-time job, such as that of an art teacher/tutor.
Illustrators use their creative skills to communicate stories, messages or ideas to an intended audience. They usually work on a freelance basis for multiple clients, and are likely to specialize in a specific medium, such as drawing, photography or digital illustration. In this case, your portfolio should demonstrate that you can work to a clear brief, such as creating designs for a book cover. You should also show that you can work in a variety of formats, particularly with computer-aided design (CAD) techniques. A postgraduate degree in fine arts specializing in illustration should give you a good range of relevant skills to offer prospective employers.
Photographers use a range of equipment to capture permanent images in the style and brief set by a client or employer. There are a wide range of purposes and specializations in photography – from weddings to advertising, photojournalism and more. Some fields, such as fashion photography, are particularly competitive, and you may find it beneficial to have a Master of Fine Arts specializing in photography. As well as working on your portfolio, you should look for opportunities to make contacts, get work published and generally gain new skills and experience through opportunities like volunteering, work shadowing, or taking part in work experience and project work with photographers or relevant employers.
An animator produces multiple images called frames, which when sequenced together create an illusion of movement known as animation. Animators could even work in the visual effects team on a film. This is another competitive area and in this case, your portfolio would be in the form of a short yet effective showreel – a DVD or online portfolio video. To enhance your employability, a postgraduate specialization in animation would be beneficial, but this is not essential. To become an animator you need to have artistic talent and strong technical skills with a good eye for detail.
A graphic designer is responsible for creating design solutions that have a high visual impact. The role involves working to a brief agreed with the client, creative director or account manager. Graphic designers develop creative ideas and concepts, choosing the appropriate media and style to meet the client's objectives. To become a graphic designer, it is very useful if you have specialized in design (or an aspect of design) in your degree and mastered the skills required, such as the use of computer packages like Photoshop. You may also consider continuing your studies at postgraduate level, with a Master of Design (MDes).
As an arts administrator, you would plan and organize arts activities and ensure they are successful. If you’re passionate about the arts and enjoy managing and organizing, this career could be for you, enabling you to gain new perspectives on art and its various community and social roles. You will need strong administration and computer skills for this role.
Printmakers create art using printing press, typically on paper, and again usually work to set briefs. Techniques used include etching, block-printing, woodcuts, silk-screening and lithography, with electronic and digital processes increasingly being used. You might find that printmaking emerges as your preferred medium following a degree in fine arts, especially if you specialize in design or illustration. To increase your employability (especially if you decide to become self-employed), seek out relevant work experience opportunities and build up a network of relevant contacts by reaching out in person and online.
If you wish to use your passion for art to motivate and inspire young people and encourage the development of budding talents, a career as an art teacher could be highly rewarding. In most countries, you will need a teaching qualification to teach at primary/secondary level, and a postgraduate degree to teach at university level. You should also have lots of confidence and excellent communication and presentation skills, in order to effectively teach and inspire your students. You may also choose to offer private art tuition to individuals or small groups, or specialize in an area such as art therapy.
Other careers in art
If none of the above art careers appeal to you, there are still plenty of options available. Art graduates can also apply for mainstream graduate jobs and training in a wide variety of industries, such as media, marketing, public relations and even accounting.
‘What Can You Do With an Art Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series. We have also covered biology, business, communications, computer science, English, engineering, fashion, finance, history, geography, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
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This article was originally published in September 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020