Future visual arts students who dream of becoming rich and famous should understand that achieving this goal as an artist or designer is difficult because many people working in art and design fields earn modest salaries.
Compensation statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, show that many American arts professionals earn less than $60,000 a year. In May 2019, the median annual salary was $48,760 for artisans and fine artists; $56,040 for interior designers; and $52,110 for graphic designers.
While a job of art or design usually doesn’t make a person rich, pursuing a degree in art or design also doesn’t doom someone to a life of poverty, say alumni and professors. art schools. There are many ways to market artistic talent, from designing products that consumers want to buy to creating advertisements for businesses.
BLS statistics reveal that the median annual salary of artistic directors – visual artists who create images in publications, product packaging, films and TV shows such as brand logos – was $94,220 in 2019, almost $55,000 more than salary median in all occupations.
Here are some occupations where art graduates can earn well above average employment, according to the BLS:
- Art Directors: Median earnings are over $90,000 per year.
- Multimedia artists and animators: median earnings are over $75,000 per year
- Producers and directors: median earnings are just under $75,000
- Fashion designers: median earnings are just under $74,000
Some jobs combine art and engineering, such as architecture, a career that requires a specialized degree and licensure and where the median annual salary exceeds $80,000. Industrial design jobs — which focus on developing ideas for manufactured products — require a combination of creativity and technological proficiency, and the median salary for these workers is just under $69,000.
There are also curator positions for people who dream of working in art galleries and museums. According to the Association of Art Museum Directors Salary survey 2019, compensation for curator roles in North America varies widely by hierarchy. The median salary for a curator assistant is around $42,000. There are many rungs on the conservative career ladder, and each rung usually results in a pay rise. The median salary for a chief curator or director of curatorial affairs is $128,365.
Although some visual arts and design professions are lucrative, prospective visual arts students who are primarily interested in money should think twice about pursuing an art degree, experts say.
“If you want a lucrative career, don’t become an artist,” wrote Matt Drissell, an associate professor of art at Dordt University in Iowa and chair of the university’s art and design department, in a E-mail. “Million-dollar worthy auctions are not the norm. If you want the challenge and joy of being a driven, curious, and creative person, embrace the artistic career.”
Drissell, who earned her MFA in painting at the New York Academy of Art, says the rewards for artistic work aren’t primarily financial. “As many have learned during Covid, being able to personally process life through the visual arts can be healing and affirming. And being able to share that creativity widely can build community, whether in times of turmoil and grief or inspiration and joy. It may not be the most lucrative path, but it can be rich in meaning and meaning.”
That said, art school alumni who started their own businesses say that entrepreneurial-minded artists with business acumen can sometimes make a lot of money.
Adam “Ace” Moyer – founder and CEO of Knockaround, a California-based sunglasses company – says his life story illustrates the potential of turning an arts education into a successful business.
“I have two art degrees, 7 years of art studies in college and have never taken a business class in my life,” Moyer wrote in an email. “And I make a lot of money. And I own a house, a bunch of cool cars, and I take fun vacations with my family. I have business-educated friends who ask me for business advice. Of course, he It’s lucky, but if I can do it, so can you.”
Mercedes Austin – founder and CEO of tile company Mercury Mosaics – says she’s never met a successful person who’s driven exclusively by money. “I found career opportunities that matched my guts,” Austin, who attended a fine arts program but left before graduating, explained in an email. “I never used overthinking and logic. If I could land on things that felt right to me, I knew I could build the logistics around that through research, hard work, and persistence. “
An entrepreneurial spirit can allow artists to see money-making opportunities that might not otherwise hit them, says Annika Connor, a professional painter and alumnus of the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Connor creates gallery paintings and sells everyday items such as pillowcases and tote bags that feature images of his paintings through his company, Annika’s Art Shop.
The colors of these wares are chosen to align with those of his original paintings, but the designs are often abstract versions of the original images. By decorating more affordable items with her artwork, Connor reaches a larger and more economically diverse audience than she otherwise could, giving her more sales opportunities, she says.
Connor suggests that budding artists consider whether they are motivated enough to perform to the degree necessary to work independently in the art industry.
“It’s hard to work for yourself in any industry you choose, and you have to be ambitious and work hard, and you have to be innovative, and you have to be organized,” she says.
Connor notes that professional artists sometimes idealize their profession so much that they forget the need to earn a living. She recommends that artists keep in mind that their work has both creative and commercial elements.
“There are business principles that need to be followed for you to find revenue and revenue growth,” she says. “You can’t magically expect things to happen just because you want them to.”
Connor cautions against a “misguided belief that you don’t have to learn anything about business just because you’re an artist,” and she suggests looking for an arts program that includes classes on how to “survive” in the art sector.
Artists need to know how to promote themselves, because no company or person will care as much about their long-term success as themselves, Connor adds. “We live in a time where you can’t expect to meet a gallerist who will take care of everything for you. That’s no longer the reality, if it ever was.”
Connor notes that exceptionally successful artists can become extremely wealthy.
“People always talk about the starving artist. They never talk about the fact that in the art world we are one of the few industries where there is absolutely no income cap on our ability to earn. “, she says. “When we reach a level of success, the astronomical returns (are) unprecedented.”
Jim Spruell, president and co-founder of Zuza Films in Georgia, says his artistic training has opened up many career opportunities for him. “I have a BFA from the University of Georgia and luckily have had a job since the day I graduated,” he wrote in an email. “In fact, I had a job waiting for me even before I graduated.”
Spruell, who has extensive experience in the advertising industry, suggests several employers for art graduates to consider. “Advertising agencies are great places to look if you have an art degree,” he says. “Design companies are also always on the lookout for talented people with art degrees. Even the internal marketing departments of big brands.”
Caitlin Vitalo, a sculptor and glass artist who is also an education coordinator at the Hunterdon Art Museum in New Jersey, agrees that earning a low salary is a distinct possibility for art graduates.
“Jobs are sometimes hard to come by, they don’t always pay what you want every time, and it can take a long time to see financial success,” Vitalo wrote in an email. “However, working in the arts is not impossible and if it is something you are passionate about it is worth pursuing. When I struggled to find financial success with my art degree , I often reminded myself of how miserable I would be doing something else.”
Vitalo, who holds an MFA from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, notes that art school graduates can pursue more careers than they initially think.
“I didn’t realize window displays were a job you could pursue as an artist when I started and now I would love to have it,” she says. “Every scene in a movie or TV show is meticulously designed and created by an artist. Billboards are created by artists. Public bike racks where you lock your bike are created by artists. Almost everything we do includes something visual – and an artist is often a contributor.”