Top Paying Careers for Art Majors

FT Contributor
An artist sits at a desk, drawing on a pad connected to a computer with other art supplies scattered around.
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Art majors can qualify for a diverse range of careers. Unlike some majors, which have a clear path to a definite entry-level position after graduation, an art degree does not guarantee that you will enter a particular field and earn a specific salary.  

Despite this uncertainty, you can find high-paying careers as an art major. These job opportunities depend on the type of art you study, your skillset, and the quality of the portfolio you make during your undergraduate education.

Different Forms of Art

Art-related careers require technical ability in your chosen medium and creativity. All art degree programs help you develop your creative side, but you need to select an area of focus so that you can develop technical skills. Art specializations typically fall into three distinct categories: visual arts, applied arts, and performing arts.

Visual Arts        

Visual arts focus on the creation of images through drawing, painting, photography, and design software. Video and film arts are also part of this field. Some colleges offer more general degrees in visual arts, while others focus on specific subjects. For example, you can get a bachelor’s degree in illustration, graphic design, photography, or animation.

Applied Arts

Applied arts include interior design, industrial design, fashion design, and other specialties that involve producing products or making aesthetically pleasing spaces. The works of an applied artist have real-world uses. For instance, a watercolor painting is an example of visual art, while a piece of designer furniture is an example of applied art. Some people refer to applied arts as “decorative arts” or “design arts.”

Performing Arts

Performing arts include theater, musical performance, dance, and other specialties that focus on performance rather than the production of tangible artworks. With a performing arts degree, you typically study a specialty and prepare for a career as a professional within that field.

Some art majors focus on the business aspects of art or they organize and oversee art production by other creatives. Art teachers are usually also art majors.

Top 13 Careers for Art Majors

Here are 13 top-paying careers for art majors. These jobs often require a specific set of skills and traits. Use your time in college to develop applicable qualities and gain the artistic samples necessary to apply for jobs in your field of choice.

Art Director

An art director works in film, television, advertising, web design, magazine publication, or product design and packaging. In all these fields, your job is to focus on overseeing the creation of visuals. You handle layout, define the visual style, and manage creative personnel during production. Salaries vary by industry, but the average annual income for an art director is $92,780.

An art director typically needs a bachelor’s degree in visual art or another artistic specialty such as graphic design or photography. Many employers prefer to hire art directors who have several years of professional experience working as creative professionals in their field. You may need less experience if you obtain a Master of Fine Arts (MFA).

Art Agent

An art agent helps artists sell their work, get commissions, and pursue other income-producing opportunities. You may work with galleries to arrange shows for your clients or sell to private collectors. Art agents usually get a percentage of each sale that they make or arrange. Entry-level art sales consultants and agents associated with a gallery make approximately $45,000 per year, on average.

To start this career, you can pursue a degree in art. Some art agents study art business or art entrepreneurship as either a major or minor. You can sometimes enter this field by obtaining a business degree.

Industrial Designer

Industrial designers

 develop products for manufacturing. In this applied art career, you are responsible for the visual aspects of the product, and you also work to make sure that it functions as it is supposed to. Commercial and industrial designers earn $65,590 per year, on average.

Industrial designers typically obtain a bachelor’s degree in industrial design or industrial engineering. During this program, you learn how to sketch or illustrate designs and also use computer-aided design (CAD) software to make production drawings. 

Art Professor

An art professor teaches art at the university level. The type of art you teach depends on your degree. Art instructors usually need a “terminal degree,” which means that they have the highest degree available in their area of specialization. In an academic subject, such as art history, this is a doctorate. In most studio art and hands-on art specialties, you need a Master of Fine Arts to offer instruction at the college level. Some colleges prefer to hire art professors who have worked as professional artists in their medium.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, college-level art teachers earn $69,960 per year, on average.

Fashion Designer

Fashion designers create and produce designs for apparel, shoes, and accessories. In this career, you can work independently or for a clothing brand. A fashion designer comes up with an initial design and manages the production of a prototype piece. You may also work with a patternmaker to create a pattern for the production of your design.

Fashion designers typically have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design. The average annual salary for someone in this career is $72,720.

Commercial Artist

A commercial artist creates visuals for advertising, packaging, and branding purposes. You can work for an advertising agency or a company’s in-house marketing department, and some commercial artists work on a freelance basis. You start this career by earning a general degree in visual arts or a degree in a subject such as illustration or graphic design. Most positions require skills with software and designing for the web.

Commercial artists are specialists within the field of graphic design. Graphic designers earn $50,370, while artists who specialized in advertising and marketing earn an average annual salary of $51,380.



 create visuals and use computer software to animate those images. In this artistic specialty, you can work on advertisements, websites, animations for TV or film, and visuals for video games. You typically need a bachelor’s degree in animation or multimedia production. Some colleges offer degrees in specific areas, such as video game production.

The average salary for all animation positions is $72,520. If you animate for video games and software, the average salary is $82,360.

Interior Designer

Interior designers

 work on aesthetic aspects of building interiors. You can work in both residential and commercial settings. Depending on your job, your duties can include planning interior elements such as paint, lighting, furnishings, carpet, and structural features. In some positions, you oversee contractors as they implement your plans.

You can start in this field by getting a degree in interior design. Degrees are available at the associate, bachelor, and master’s levels. Some states require that you obtain a license if you plan to call yourself an “interior designer.” The average salary for this job is $53,570

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers

 create visuals for a variety of purposes. You can work in advertising, web design, or packaging. In some cases, graphic designers create images for the publishing industry, for educational materials, or corporate reports. Regardless of your area of specialization, you need a degree in graphic design or a related subject such as illustration. You also need a working knowledge of software like Adobe Illustrator.

You can pursue either an associate or a bachelor’s degree, and you should create a portfolio to show to prospective employers. Salaries for graphic designers vary depending on the industry for which you work, but the average annual salary is $50,370.

Film/Video Editor

A film/video editor uses software, such as Final Cut Pro, to edit a film or video. In this post-production career, you can work for a production company, a firm that specializes in post-production work, or on a freelance basis. You typically start this career by getting a bachelor’s degree in film or video production.

The average salary for editors is $62,650.

Art Dealer

An art dealer buys and sells works of art. You often facilitate the purchase of art by acting as a broker between a buyer and an artist or seller. Art dealers have varying academic backgrounds. Some have a degree in art history or fine art, while others study in a specialized field, such as art business or art appraisal.

Since you work on a commission basis or make profits by selling work that you own, your salary can vary significantly. Estimates for annual average salaries are usually around $56,426.

Advertising Designer

Advertising designers are graphic designers who focus solely on creating visuals for advertisements and marketing materials. This job includes creating images by hand or with computer programs. To start this career, you usually need a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related visual arts subject. The average salary of graphic designers who specialize in advertising and marketing is $51,380.

Visual Designer

A visual designer helps to create the user interface websites, apps, information kiosks, and other items that have a user interface. Your duties include working on visuals and layouts. Some visual designers also work with the user interface itself. The average annual income for visual designers is $81,250. A visual designer needs a degree in graphic design, web design, visual art, or a related subject.

How to Start an Art Career

To start an art career, you typically need to develop two different sets of skills. First, you need to build your creative skills. This process includes finding your artistic voice and learning how to use it to create works that set you apart from other artists.

The second step involves learning to apply your artistic skills to a specific career. During your college studies, you can learn the principles and fundamentals of your chosen career path. For example, in a photography degree program, you will learn how to control the camera, frame images, and edit pictures using software (or in a dark room).

What Items Do You Need to Start an Art Career?

Regardless of your area of specialization, you need to create a portfolio that showcases your creative skills, artistic voice, and mastery of your medium. Portfolios are often the focus of the later semesters of your degree program after you have developed technical skills and defined your artistic voice.

A professional artist needs to have all the equipment necessary to perform their job. Depending on your specialty, this could mean finding studio space, purchasing equipment and materials, and buying a computer and required software.

One additional step that you can take is to undertake an internship during your undergraduate studies. An internship can help you gain experience in the art career in which you wish to work before you become a full-time professional.  

Finally, you need to create a professional portfolio, website, and social media accounts that you can use to reach out to prospective employers. Your resume should include any internship or volunteer experience as well as directing people to look at your portfolio and online presence.

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