Careers

5 Careers You Can Pursue with an Art Degree

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“Every child is an artist,” Pablo Picasso once said about art. “The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Art enthusiasts don’t have it easy. Engaging in this pastime is a perfectly acceptable activity ... until you enter middle school, and you inevitably face the advice to seek practical and meaningful pursuits that may lead to rewarding careers. As you prepare for college, announcing your interest in studying this field may even be a cause for intervention as your family worries about your ability to pick what’s good for you. The myth of the starving artist, however, has been busted, and as the Strategic Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) indicates, “ninety-two percent of arts alumni who wish to work currently are.” Even more important, “of those who currently only work outside the arts, 54 percent said their arts training is relevant to the job in which they spend the majority of their time.” The findings reveal that arts education contributes to professional development whether the person chooses to pursue a career in the arts or not.


“Transitioning from art school to the working world can be challenging,” says Mattie Schloetzer, program administrator, internships and fellowships at the National Gallery of Art. But it is no more challenging than transitions for any other graduate. Work with a career counselor to clarify your goals and explore your options. If you are pursuing a degree in the arts but do not see yourself as a working artist, here are five ideas to consider.

Curator

Curators identify and collect items to exhibit in their places of work. They possess an in-depth knowledge of art history and trends and play a vital role in designing and setting up exhibits. Curators are involved in acquiring items, coming up with event themes and drafting messages accompanying each item. They also work to preserve the items, guide visiting tours and educate the general public. To successfully perform their jobs, curators need effective negotiation skills as they purchase new items and fundraise. Courses in business administration complement an art history degree, as curators often oversee administrative and managerial functions.

Although museums are the most obvious work environments, they are not the only ones. “In addition to considering the museum profession, I would also encourage recent grads to apply to commercial galleries and exhibit companies too,” advises Schloetzer. To explore the path of a curator, consider volunteer or internship options at local museums or galleries. You may also want to pursue leadership and fundraising roles in student clubs.

Helpful resource: American Alliance of Museums (AAM).

Art Therapist

If you are passionate about the arts and you're motivated to help people, consider becoming an art therapist. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines this field as “an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

These therapists can be found in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, juvenile detention centers and other facilities. Their clients come from all age groups, and therapy takes place in individual, group or family settings. These professionals collaborate with medical staff to gain a better understanding of their clients’ capabilities before designing a program to specifically address their needs. Although art therapy is a relatively new concept, “demand for new therapists is created as medical professionals and the general public become aware of the benefits gained through art therapies,” AATA points out. To explore this career, consider volunteering at a local hospital. A good sense of humor and lots of patience can be a plus. To learn more about the scope of the career and trends in the field, check out Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.

Helpful resources: American Art Therapy Association (AATA); Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB).

Video Game Art Director

All those hours you spent playing Minecraft may not have been wasted if you are interested in a career in video games. Game creation is a long and complex process, and it’s the art director’s responsibility to see it through. These directors orchestrate each stage of the process, from clarifying the client’s concept to hiring talent to employing technology on design and illustration. They manage all artists involved and ensure that the clients’ requirements are met.

Although many people associate video games with the field of entertainment, you have the option to oversee the creation of more impactful video games like the one created by visual artist Amy Green. Conduct industry research to explore this career option and consider learning about animation through formal and informal trainings.

Helpful resources: International Game Developers Association (IGDA); Women in Games International; Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

Art Teacher

A love of learning and a passion for the arts may lead you to a career as a teacher. Art teachers educate students on how to create, appreciate and understand the fine arts. Though most teachers work in schools, some can be found in non-academic settings like community centers, museums or juvenile detention centers. In addition to having a background in art, they therefore also need teacher education and must keep up-to-date on curriculum requirements. An engaging way to explore the career is teaching sessions at a local community center or a public library. You may also want to read industry publications such as Art Education and American Educator to learn more about trends in the education field.

Helpful resources: The National Art Education Association (NAEA).

Design Your Own Career

I’m a big fan of creating your own opportunities, and it’s only fitting that I offer this option in a piece about careers for arts graduates. SNAAP points out that among arts graduates, “more than six in ten (63 percent) were self-employed since graduating, with 14 percent founding their own company.” The journey to designing your desired career, however, is neither linear nor clear from the beginning. Tamar Avishai, creator and host of The Lonely Palette, a podcast aiming to return art history to the masses, knows exactly how that feels. "Art history wasn't really a career I chose, so much as it chose me -- and then dumped me -- and then sat patiently as I found my way back to it on more equal footing,” Avishai reflects. “I originally took art history in college as a consolation when the studio art classes I wanted to take were full, and accidentally and completely fell in love with it.”

I came across Avishai’s podcast about a year ago, and as a career professional, I appreciate her approach to not only discovering what she loves but also figuring out a way to share her interests with others. The discovery surely took time, however. “I did some serious soul-searching after my Master's; I never completely jived with the rigidity of the academic style,” says Avishai. “It was around this point I discovered the community of public radio -- the consummate storytellers -- and realized that I didn't have to lose what I loved about art history: The art, the history and especially the storytelling.” And that’s when it hit her, “Maybe there was an opportunity to carve something new out of a world that seemed so sure of itself. And the rest is (art) history."