Fine arts students draw upon everything from crude cave drawings to
sophisticated web design when they're creating art. Art is always evolving.
But is there a future for fine arts students in today's digital world?
Sandra Meigs is a visual arts professor. "In the field of visual art, there
is no so-called classical art. Current art is current art. There are traditional
methods in any of the given disciplines, but these have to be addressed within
the contemporary field."
Visual artists create original paintings, drawings, sculptures, etchings,
engravings and other artistic works. They generally fall into one of two categories
-- graphic artists and designers or fine artists.
The distinction depends not so much on the medium that the artist uses,
but on the artist's purpose in creating a work of art. Fine artists often
create art to satisfy their own need for self-expression and usually display
their work in galleries or museums.
Work is sometimes done on request from clients, but artists' skills are
not generally at the service of commercial clients, as graphic artists' skills
Fine artists may sell their works to stores, commercial art galleries,
museums or directly to collectors. Only the most successful fine artists are
able to support themselves solely through the sales of their works. Most have
other jobs as well.
It can be a dilemma for fine artists to compromise their skills to do commercial
work in order to pay the rent, but it is often a reality. The Princeton Review
states that as a purely self-expressing career, 90 percent of artists make
under $1,000 per year.
The financial rewards come to few, and generally later in an artist's life.
It is the work itself and the supportive community that make this financially
uncertain lifestyle worthwhile.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) says over half of visual artists
were self-employed in 2006. That's about seven times the proportion in professional
Starting out and developing a reputation can be a hard road for aspiring
artists. Many have to supplement their earnings with employment in other fields.
Areas of employment may include working in arts administration departments
in cities, states or federal arts programs.
Some may work as art critics, art consultants, directors or representatives
in fine art galleries, or curators setting up art exhibits in museums. They
may also give private art lessons.
The motion picture and television industries, wholesale and retail trade
establishments, and public relations firms often hire artists. If all else
fails, some artists may have to resort to finding work in an unrelated field
in order to support their careers in fine arts.
Linda Andrews is a freelance fine artist and illustrator. "I am presently
freelancing in the digital world using a Macintosh computer, and have not
as yet pursued the fine arts as a full-time occupation," she says.
"I have been told that there is work out there for illustrating children's
books, as well as editorial and educational venues. Magazines are always looking
for new artists to illustrate stories."
Andrew's advice to new artists: "Develop your own unique style and go for
John Outterbridge is a world-renowned artist based in the U.S. "Visual
artists can find work in advertising agencies, publishing companies and other
businesses, but the competition is keen." Outterbridge believes commercial
success in the visual arts is a matter of producing art that is both marketable
"The way most serious professional artists develop is by working as a teacher,
either in an art college, university program, high school or elementary school,"
says Madeline Lennon. She is a visual arts professor.
Artists can also look for some support for their work in the form of fellowships,
residencies and grants. In the U.S., there are several state-funded art agencies.
The art industry is very competitive and is constantly changing. Completion
of an art program is one way to begin a career as an artist. There are one-year
certificate programs that emphasize developing and refining a high-quality
Two-year diploma programs encourage students to explore a broad range of
concepts, materials, techniques and processes. These programs assist students
to develop personal interests, directions and creative maturity, as well as
to prepare portfolios.
Portfolios are necessary to gain acceptance to advanced art programs, as
well as to demonstrate one's skills to prospective employers. The goal for
an artist is to obtain commissions or contracts for their services. Evidence
of appropriate talent and skill is an important factor.
Assembling a successful portfolio requires skills usually developed in
a bachelor's degree program or other post-secondary training in art.
It is very difficult to become skilled enough to make a living in the fine
arts field without formal training of some kind. Internships can also provide
excellent opportunities for artists to develop and enhance their portfolios.
Four-year bachelor's programs, master's and doctoral degrees are offered
in many universities throughout the U.S.
Artists who have studied their craft at university and have received graduate
degrees in their respective disciplines have the best prospects of finding
work as teachers of art. Those with teaching certification may teach art in
elementary or secondary schools, while those with a master's or PhD degrees
may teach in colleges or universities.
The OOH says employment of visual artists will grow faster than average
through 2016. However, in order to obtain a steady source of income, workers
in this group may have to overcome obstacles that are anything but average.
The glamorous and exciting image of the fine arts field attracts many talented
people with a love for drawing and creative ability. The supply of aspiring
artists will continue to exceed the number of job openings, resulting in keen
competition for both salaried jobs and freelance work.
Talented artists who have developed a mastery of artistic techniques and
skills, including computer skills, will have the best job prospects.
The Princeton Review states that in the future, the role that art plays
will not change drastically. However, painting, photography, sketching, sculpting
and many other traditional media will be joined by computer art, mixed-media
art and other new forms that reflect the times.
Lennon says that it is important to realize that almost all artists are
learning about digital imaging, even if they are primarily painters, sculptors
"Today, most contemporary artists work across many media, not primarily
in one," says Lennon. "As a result, they are able to apply their skills in
a number of careers like publishing, CD-ROM production or website development."
"A speaker from [a] digital design program...told fine arts faculty members
a few years ago that traditional drawing skills, not computer expertise, would
be the best foundation for entering their program," says Jim Tanner. He is
a professor of fine arts.
"New modes of artistic expression only increase the options for artists,
rather than replace traditional media."
Sally Randall of New York has been a working artist for the past 20 years.
She believes the opportunities for artists within the Internet are endless.
"New jobs are being invented all the time, and mostly for people who in the
past found job seeking a difficult chore -- like artists, writers, historians
Bottom line for artists today: "If you can't beat 'em -- join 'em." Use
your skills and traditional training as a base and look for any opportunity
to transfer those skills into the digital world of mixed media.
The graphic and technological capabilities of the Web have opened up a
whole new world for artists, including hot new areas of employment opportunities.
Contemporary Artists' Services
A series of articles designed to teach artists the skills they
need to manage their own careers
Online communications for the arts
National Endowment for the Arts
Federal arts resources and arts features