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. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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


ART DARES
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?”

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Ask the Art Prof: How are European MFA Degrees Viewed in the United States?

Final Crit

“I know you’ve said before on this blog that the prestige of your graduate school is critical. How are European MFA degrees viewed in the United States?”

My guess would be to say that it’s neutral.  I don’t think it hurts, but I don’t think it helps tremendously either. The majority of people who apply for college teaching positions in the United States have graduate degrees from the United States, so perhaps a European degree might make you seem more “exotic”?  It’s tough to say, as every search committee has its own specific agenda that is impossible to predict.

I wish I could tell you that graduate school should only be about the educational experience that you have during that time, but unfortunately the reality is that that just is not the case. One of the most important things to attain in graduate school is the strong professional connections that will help launch you into the art world. In terms of professional contacts, location is everything.  For example, if you want to make it professionally in New York City after graduate school, going to a graduate school in Alaska is not a smart move.

The faculty that you study with in graduate school is critical; they will provide the bridge into the professional world for you.  If you study with faculty who are at the top of their field and live either in or within a few hours of New York City, they will have invaluable contacts that you won’t find anywhere else.  I dislike having to put so much emphasis on New York City, as I don’t want to discount other artistic communities in other parts of the world, but New York City really is where the “movers and shakers” are in the art world.

Opening reception

In your case, if your intent is to eventually work professionally in the United States, an MFA in Europe probably isn’t the best choice in terms of networking.  All of your professional contacts will be in Europe, and you’ll essentially have to start from scratch when you come back to the United States. If the professional networking is not a concern for you, then it doesn’t matter where you go to graduate school, and you can just focus on the educational experience. Whether or not the professional networking matters to you depends on your reasons for attending graduate school.  Some people go because they want to teach at the college level, whereas others just do it for themselves. If you’re going to graduate school because you want to teach college, then the networking is going to be crucial to have.


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

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


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


ART DARES
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 Videos
Ask the Art Prof Live: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
Ask the Art Prof Live: Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
Ask the Art Prof Live: Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


Related articles
“Is graduate school worth it?”
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