- More than half of all artists and related workers were
almost eight times the proportion for all professional and
- Artists usually develop their skills through a bachelor's degree
program or other postsecondary training in art or design.
- Keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance
work, because many talented people are attracted to the visual arts.
Nature of the Work
Artists create art to communicate ideas, thoughts, or feelings. They
use a variety of methods painting, sculpting, or illustration
assortment of materials, including oils, watercolors, acrylics, pastels,
pencils, pen and ink, plaster, clay, and computers. Artists works may be
realistic, stylized, or abstract and may depict objects, people, nature, or
Artists generally fall into one of three categories. Art directors
formulate design concepts and presentation approaches for visual
communications media. Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and
illustrators create original artwork, using a variety of media and
techniques. Multi-media artists and animators create special effects,
animation, or other visual images on film, on video, or with computers or
other electronic media. (Designers,
including graphic designers, are discussed elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Art directors develop design concepts and review material that is
to appear in periodicals, newspapers, and other printed or digital media.
They decide how best to present the information visually, so that it is eye
catching, appealing, and organized. Art directors decide which photographs
or artwork to use and oversee the layout design and production of the
printed material. They may direct workers engaged in artwork, layout design,
Fine artists typically display their work in museums, commercial
art galleries, corporate collections, and private homes. Some of their
artwork may be commissioned (done on request from clients), but most is sold
by the artist or through private art galleries or dealers. The gallery and
the artist predetermine how much each will earn from the sale. Only the most
successful fine artists are able to support themselves solely through the
sale of their works. Most fine artists must work in an unrelated field to
support their art careers. Some work in museums or art galleries as
fine-arts directors or as curators, planning and setting up art exhibits.
Others work as art critics for newspapers or magazines or as consultants to
foundations or institutional collectors.
Usually, fine artists specialize in one or two art forms, such as
painting, illustrating, sketching, sculpting, printmaking, and restoring.
Painters, illustrators, cartoonists, and sketch artists work with
two-dimensional art forms, using shading, perspective, and color to produce
realistic scenes or abstractions.
Illustrators typically create pictures for books, magazines, and
other publications, and for commercial products such as textiles, wrapping
paper, stationery, greeting cards, and calendars. Increasingly, illustrators
work in digital format, preparing work directly on a computer.
Medical and scientific illustrators combine drawing skills
with knowledge of biology or other sciences. Medical illustrators draw
illustrations of human anatomy and surgical procedures. Scientific
illustrators draw illustrations of animal and plant life, atomic and
molecular structures, and geologic and planetary formations. The
illustrations are used in medical and scientific publications and in
audiovisual presentations for teaching purposes. Medical illustrators also
work for lawyers, producing exhibits for court cases.
Cartoonists draw political, advertising, social, and sports
cartoons. Some cartoonists work with others who create the idea or story and
write the captions. Most cartoonists have comic, critical, or dramatic
talents in addition to drawing skills.
Sketch artists create likenesses of subjects using pencil,
charcoal, or pastels. Sketches are used by law enforcement agencies to
assist in identifying suspects, by the news media to depict courtroom
scenes, and by individual patrons for their own enjoyment.
Sculptors design three-dimensional artworks, either by molding and
joining materials such as clay, glass, wire, plastic, fabric, or metal or by
cutting and carving forms from a block of plaster, wood, or stone. Some
sculptors combine various materials to create mixed-media installations.
Some incorporate light, sound, and motion into their works.
Printmakers create printed images from designs cut or etched into
wood, stone, or metal. After creating the design, the artist inks the
surface of the woodblock, stone, or plate and uses a printing press to roll
the image onto paper or fabric. Some make prints by pressing the inked
surface onto paper by hand or by graphically encoding and processing data,
using a computer. The digitized images are then printed on paper with the
use of a computer printer.
Painting restorers preserve and restore damaged and faded
paintings. They apply solvents and cleaning agents to clean the surfaces of
the paintings, they reconstruct or retouch damaged areas, and they apply
preservatives to protect the paintings. All this is highly detailed work and
usually is reserved for experts in the field.
Multi-media artists and animators work primarily in motion picture
and video industries, advertising, and computer systems design services.
They draw by hand and use computers to create the large series of pictures
that form the animated images or special effects seen in movies, television
programs, and computer games. Some draw storyboards for television
commercials, movies, and animated features. Storyboards present television
commercials in a series of scenes similar to a comic strip and allow an
advertising agency to evaluate proposed commercials with the company doing
the advertising. Storyboards also serve as guides to placing actors and
cameras on the television or motion picture set and to other details that
need to be taken care of during the production of commercials.
|Many artists work in fine- or commercial-art studios located
in office buildings, warehouses, or lofts. Others work in private
studios in their homes. Some fine artists share studio space,
where they also may exhibit their work. Studio surroundings
usually are well lighted and ventilated; however, fine artists may
be exposed to fumes from glue, paint, ink, and other materials and
to dust or other residue from filings, splattered paint, or
spilled fluids. Artists who sit at drafting tables or who use
computers for extended periods may experience back pain,
eyestrain, or fatigue.
Artists employed by publishing companies, advertising agencies,
and design firms generally work a standard workweek. During busy
periods, they may work overtime to meet deadlines. Self-employed
artists can set their own hours, but may spend much time and
effort selling their artwork to potential customers or clients and
building a reputation.
Artists held about 149,000 jobs in 2002. More than half were
self-employed. Of the artists who were not self-employed, many
worked in advertising and related services; newspaper, periodical,
book, and software publishers; motion picture and video
industries; specialized design services; and computer systems
design and related services. Some self-employed artists offered
their services to advertising agencies, design firms, publishing
houses, and other businesses on a contract or freelance basis
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Training requirements for artists vary by specialty. Although
formal training is not strictly necessary for fine artists, it is
very difficult to become skilled enough to make a living without
some training. Many colleges and universities offer programs
leading to the Bachelor in Fine Arts (BFA) and Master in Fine Arts
(MFA) degrees. Course work usually includes core subjects, such as
English, social science, and natural science, in addition to art
history and studio art.
Independent schools of art and design also offer postsecondary
studio training in the fine arts leading to an Associate in Art or
Bachelor in Fine Arts degree. Typically, these programs focus more
intensively on studio work than do the academic programs in a
university setting. The National Association of Schools of Art and
Design accredits more than 200 postsecondary institutions with
programs in art and design; most award a degree in art.
Formal educational programs in art also provide training in
computer techniques. Computers are used widely in the visual arts,
and knowledge and training in computer graphics and other visual
display software are critical elements of many jobs in these
Those who want to teach fine arts at public elementary or
secondary schools must have a teaching certificate in addition to
a bachelor's degree. An advanced degree in fine arts or arts
administration is necessary for management or administrative
positions in government or in foundations or for teaching in
colleges and universities. (See the statements for
teachers-postsecondary; and teachers-preschool, kindergarten,
elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers elsewhere in the
Illustrators learn drawing and sketching skills through
training in art programs and through extensive practice. Most
employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree; however,
some illustrators are contracted on the basis of portfolios of
their past work.
Medical illustrators must have both a demonstrated artistic
ability and a detailed knowledge of living organisms, surgical and
medical procedures, and human and animal anatomy. A 4-year
bachelor's degree combining art and premedical courses usually is
preferred; a master's degree in medical illustration is
recommended. This degree is offered in only five accredited
schools in the United States.
Evidence of appropriate talent and skill, displayed in an
artist's portfolio, is an important factor used by art directors,
clients, and others in deciding whether to hire an individual or
to contract out work. The portfolio is a collection of handmade,
computer-generated, photographic, or printed samples of the
artist's best work. Assembling a successful portfolio requires
skills usually developed in a bachelor's degree program or through
other postsecondary training in art or visual communications.
Internships also provide excellent opportunities for artists to
develop and enhance their portfolios.
Artists hired by advertising agencies often start with
relatively routine work. While doing this work, however, they may
observe and practice their skills on the side. Many artists
freelance on a part-time basis while continuing to hold a
full-time job until they are established. Others freelance part
time while still in school, to develop experience and to build a
portfolio of published work.
Freelance artists try to develop a set of clients who regularly
contract for work. Some freelance artists are widely recognized
for their skill in specialties such as magazine or children's book
illustration. These artists may earn high incomes and can choose
the type of work they do.
Fine artists advance professionally as their work circulates
and as they establish a reputation for a particular style. Many of
the most successful artists continually develop new ideas, and
their work often evolves over time.
Employment of artists and related workers is expected to grow
about as fast as the average through the year 2012. Because the
arts attract many talented people with creative ability, the
number of aspiring artists continues to grow. Consequently,
competition for both salaried jobs and freelance work in some
areas is expected to be keen.
Art directors work in a variety of industries, such as
advertising, public relations, publishing, and design firms.
Despite an expanding number of opportunities, they should
experience keen competition for the available openings.
Fine artists mostly work on a freelance, or commission, basis
and may find it difficult to earn a living solely by selling their
artwork. Only the most successful fine artists receive major
commissions for their work. Competition among artists for the
privilege of being shown in galleries is expected to remain acute,
and grants from sponsors such as private foundations, State and
local arts councils, and the National Endowment for the Arts
should remain competitive. Nonetheless, studios, galleries, and
individual clients are always on the lookout for artists who
display outstanding talent, creativity, and style. Talented fine
artists who have developed a mastery of artistic techniques and
skills, including computer skills, will have the best job
The need for artists to illustrate and animate materials for
magazines, journals, and other printed or electronic media will
spur demand for illustrators and animators of all types. Growth in
motion picture and video industries will provide new job
opportunities for illustrators, cartoonists, and animators.
Competition for most jobs, however, will be strong, because job
opportunities are relatively few and the number of people
interested in these positions usually exceeds the number of
available openings. Employers should be able to choose from among
the most qualified candidates.
Median annual earnings of salaried art directors were $61,850
in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,740 and $85,010.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,410, and the highest 10
percent earned more than $115,570. Median annual earnings were
$67,340 in advertising and related services.
Median annual earnings of salaried fine artists, including
painters, sculptors, and illustrators, were $35,260 in 2002. The
middle 50 percent earned between $23,970 and $48,040. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $16,900, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $73,560.
Median annual earnings of salaried multi-media artists and
animators were $43,980 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned
between $33,970 and $61,120. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $25,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $85,160.
Median annual earnings were $58,840 in motion picture and video
Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely. Some charge
only a nominal fee while they gain experience and build a
reputation for their work. Others, such as well-established
freelance fine artists and illustrators, can earn more than
salaried artists. Many, however, find it difficult to rely solely
on income earned from selling paintings or other works of art.
Like other self-employed workers, freelance artists must provide
their own benefits.
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