Ask the Art Prof: What are the Career Opportunities in the Fine Arts?

RISD Section 19

“I’m studying architecture and visuals art in college which I am about to finish this fall. I took courses in graphic design, typography, illustration, and print production but I am more passionate and interested in painting, drawing, sculpting and crafting.

I don’t know any jobs that involve my interests. I’ve been having a hard time finding career path in art other than graphic design or web design. What are the career opportunities in fine art?”

If you want to work in fine arts, you have to take the self-initiative to carve your own path. The possibilities are endless, and it’s up to each person to find a balance that allows for them to maintain their studio practice while paying the bills. In order to find that path, you have to figure out just how much you want to involve your art in your paying job.  Some people like to keep their art completely separate from their paying job, while others like their art to be a part of their paying job. There are disadvantages and advantages to both options.

A former professor of mine wanted to be a fine art painter, so he opted to work as a professional portrait painter. You would think that this job would be great, since you essentially get paid to be making oil paintings all day.  However, the reality is that being a portrait painter can be nightmarish.  His clients always seemed to have a vision of themselves that had nothing to do with what they actually physically looked like, and they complained left and right about every single petty detail. He found himself creatively bound by unreasonable demands made by clients, and having to pander to their desires. This basically dispelled any shred of creativity from the portrait paintings, making the process very mechanical and constrained.

Portrait Drawing

One of my peers went to art school for animation and upon graduation landed a full-time job at a small, independent animation studio.  Sounds perfect, right? Well, it turned out that his job animating all day long (and many times all night long)  was so demanding and exhausting that by the time he got home at the end of the work day, the last thing he wanted to do was animate more. The job was consuming to the point that he couldn’t muster up the mental space or the time he needed to work on his own animation projects outside of his day job. Within a year, he had left the studio.  On the flip side, I know plenty of people who work at animation or production studios who are plenty satisfied with their work there.

There can be advantages to separating your art from your paying job. If your paying job is completely unrelated to art, you’ll have more mental space and energy for your own studio practice.  One of my former professors told me that he was a movie theater manager when he first got out of school.  He said it was a great schedule because he could focus all of his energy on painting all day, and then go to work at night. A department head at an art school told me that he was a waiter for 15 years, and during that time, produced tons of paintings.  By contrast, he now paints very little due to the administrative demands in his position as a department head and professor of fine arts. While having a job that is completed unrelated to art works for some people, there are many of us who would not be willing to be a waiter for 15 years.

Intaglio Printmaking Project

One of the most popular options for many fine artists is to teach.  Teaching works for many fine artists because it’s a paying job that involves art without any hands-on labor.  There are many benefits to teaching:  you’re instantly plugged into an academic community, and you have all of the resources and facilities of the school at your fingertips.  I’m learning from my students all the time, I enjoy connecting with my colleagues when I’m on campus, and I milk the facilities and resources every chance I get.  Teaching keeps your mind active, getting you to process and think about artistic ideas which can in turn positively influence your own art.

Just remember that making your art is a lifelong pursuit, while jobs and careers come and go. You don’t have to give up making your art to pay the bills.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Related articles
“How do I change careers to pursue my passion for art?”
“How long did it take you to jump start your career after graduation?  What was your first job?”
“Should I pursue a career in fine art?”


6 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: What are the Career Opportunities in the Fine Arts?

  1. I work in a library. I have plenty of time to read, research, and the silence is great for fine tuning ideas and thinking projects through.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the up-side to non-creative income, like freeing me up creatively for my own artistic inspirations. I agree, school facilities are a big bonus. Without them I would not have had the economic means to explore ceramics and discover an interest in it.

  3. I disagree with the part about teaching not having any hands-on labor! I spend time outside of the school day loading the kiln, researching lessons, grading, preparing and/or ordering supplies, etc. I teach 800 kindergarteners – 5th graders. It is exhausting!

    1. I should have been more specific; when I said that teaching didn’t have hands-on labor, I intended to refer to teaching at the college level.

  4. Thanks for posting this article. I’ve come across your blog several times and it’s also very resourceful. Right now I’m working a day job that’s separate from my art, but I would like to find a day job that utilizes a bit of illustration skills. With my illustrative style I’ve been pushed into doing video games or film concept art, although I really do love the discipline itself, 3 years down the line, after pursuing the professional route of being an entertainment artist, I realized it might not be a professional route for me as I see the field growing more and more demanding and more technical than artistic.

    So I’m starting over trying to figure out what to do next. But it’s frustrating, I feel like I just want to be an artist that can make a living off my own work and find a day job that uses my skills. Working at another job separate from what I’m good at makes me feel discouraged and demoralized as an artist.

    Any advice on where to start? Thanks 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s