Artists and Related Workers
- About 63 percent of artists and related workers are self-employed.
- Keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance
work; the number of qualified workers exceeds the number of
available openings because the arts attract many talented people
with creative ability.
- Artists usually develop their skills through a bachelor’s
degree program or other postsecondary training in art or design.
- Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely; some well-established
artists earn more than salaried artists, while others find it
difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling art.
Artists create art to communicate ideas, thoughts, or feelings.
They use a variety of methods—painting, sculpting, or illustration—and
an 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 events.
Artists generally fall into one of four categories. Art directors
formulate design concepts and presentation approaches for visual
communications media. Craft artists create or reproduce
handmade objects for sale or exhibition. 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)
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, and copywriting.
Craft artists hand-make a wide variety of objects that
are sold either in their own studios, in retail outlets, or at
arts-and-crafts shows. Some craft artists may display their works
in galleries and museums. Craft artists work with many different
materials—ceramics, glass, textiles, wood, metal, and paper—to
create unique pieces of art, such as pottery, stained glass, quilts,
tapestries, lace, candles, and clothing. Many craft artists also
use fine-art techniques—for example, painting, sketching, and
printing—to add finishing touches to their art.
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 have at least one other
job 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. A few artists work as art critics for
newspapers or magazines or as consultants to foundations or institutional
collectors. Other artists teach art classes or conduct workshops
in schools or in their own studios. Some artists also hold full-time
or part-time jobs unrelated to the art field and pursue fine art
as a hobby or second career.
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
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 are working 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
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 with 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.
Restoration 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 commercials proposed by 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
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
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Postsecondary training is recommended for all artist specialties.
Although formal training is not strictly required, 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’s or master’s degree in fine arts. Courses usually
include 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 craft, fine, and multi-media arts leading
to a certificate in the specialty or to an associate’s or bachelor’s
degree in fine arts. 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
about 250 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 fields.
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 bachelor’s degree
combining art and premedical courses usually is required. However,
most medical illustrators also choose to pursue a master’s degree
in medical illustration. This degree is offered in five accredited
schools in the United States.
Art directors usually begin as entry-level artists in advertising,
publishing, design, and motion picture production firms. Artists
are promoted to art director after demonstrating artistic and
leadership abilities. Some art schools offer coursework in art
direction as part of postsecondary training. Depending on the
scope of their responsibilities, some art directors also may pursue
a degree in art administration, which teaches nonartistic skills
such as project management and communication.
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 .
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 through
postsecondary training in art or visual communications. Internships
also provide excellent opportunities for artists to develop and
enhance their portfolios.
Artists hired by firms 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 cartooning or children’s
book illustration. These artists may earn high incomes and can
choose the type of work they do.
Craft and 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.
Artists held about 208,000 jobs in 2004. Sixty-three percent
were self-employed. Employment was distributed as follows:
|Multi-media artists and animators
|Fine artists, including painters, sculptors,
|Artists and related workers, all other
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.
Employment of artists and related workers is expected to grow
about as fast as average for all occupations through the year
2014. However, the competition for jobs is expected to be keen
for both salaried and freelance jobs in all specialties, because
the number of qualified workers exceeds the number of available
openings. Also, because the arts attract many talented people
with creative ability, the number of aspiring artists continues
to grow. Employers in all industries should be able to choose
from among the most qualified candidates.
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.
Craft and fine artists work mostly on a freelance or commission
basis and may find it difficult to earn a living solely by selling
their artwork. Only the most successful craft and 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. Among craft and fine
artists, talented individuals who have developed a mastery of
artistic techniques and skills will have the best job prospects.
The growth in computer graphics packages and stock art Web sites
is making it easier for writers, publishers, and art directors
to create their own illustrations. As the use of this technology
grows, there will be fewer opportunities for illustrators. One
exception is the small number of medical illustrators, who will
be in greater demand to illustrate journal articles and books
as medical research continues to grow.
Salaried cartoonists will have fewer job opportunities because
many newspapers and magazines are increasingly relying on freelance
work. In addition, many cartoonists are opting to post their work
on political Web sites and online publications. As online posting
of cartoons increases, many are creating animated or interactive
images to satisfy readers’ demands for more sophisticated cartoons.
Multi-media artists and animators should have better job opportunities
than other artists, but still will experience competition. Demand
for these workers will increase as consumers continue to demand
more realistic video games, movie and television special effects,
and 3D animated movies. Additional job openings will arise from
an increasing demand for Web site development and for computer
graphics adaptation from the growing number of mobile technologies.
Job opportunities for animators of lower-technology, two-dimensional
television cartoons could be hampered as these jobs continue to
be outsourced overseas.
Median annual earnings of salaried art directors were $63,840
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,890 and
$88,120. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,500, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $123,320. Median annual earnings
were $66,900 in advertising and related services.
Median annual earnings of salaried craft artists were $23,520
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,950 and
$32,980. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,740, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $44,490.
Median annual earnings of salaried fine artists, including painters,
sculptors, and illustrators, were $38,060 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $25,990 and $51,730. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $17,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more
than $68,860. According to the Association of Medical Illustrators,
the median earnings in 2005 for salaried medical illustrators
Median annual earnings of salaried multi-media artists and animators
were $50,360 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$37,980 and $70,730. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,030,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,260. Median annual
earnings were $67,390 in motion picture and video industries and
$46,810 in advertising and related services.
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.
Other workers who apply art skills include architects, except
landscape and naval; archivists, curators, and museum technicians;
commercial and industrial designers; fashion designers; floral
designers; graphic designers; interior designers; jewelers and
precious stone and metal workers; landscape architects; photographers;
and woodworkers. Some workers who use computers extensively, including
computer software engineers and desktop publishers, may require
Sources of Additional Information
For general information about art and design and a list of accredited
college-level programs, contact:
For information on careers in the craft arts and for a list of
schools and workshops, contact:
For information on careers in illustration, contact:
For information on careers in medical illustration, contact:
- Association of Medical Illustrators, 245 First St., Suite
1800, Cambridge, MA 02142. Internet: http://www.ami.org/
For information on workshops, scholarships, internships, and
competitions for art students interested in advertising careers,
27-1011.00, 27-1012.00, 27-1013.01, 27-1013.02, 27-1013.03, 27-1013.04,
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,