Prospective visual art students who dream of becoming rich and famous should understand that it is difficult to achieve that goal as either an artist or designer, since many people working in the art and design fields earn modest salaries.
Compensation statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, show that many U.S. art professionals earn less than $60,000 per year. As of May 2019, the median annual salary was $48,760 for craft and fine artists; $56,040 for interior designers; and $52,110 for graphic designers.
Although an art or design job doesn’t typically make a person wealthy, pursuing an art or design degree also does not doom someone to a life of poverty, art school alumni and faculty say. There are many ways to commercialize artistic talent, from designing products that consumers want to purchase to creating advertisements for corporations.
BLS statistics reveal that the median annual salary among art directors — the visual artists who create images in publications, product packages, movies and TV shows such as brand logos — was $94,220 as of 2019, nearly $55,000 higher than the median salary within all occupations.
Here are some professions where art degree recipients can earn salaries that are well above that of the average job, according to the BLS:
— Art directors: median earnings are more than $90,000 per year.
— Multimedia artists and animators: median earnings are more than $75,000 per year
— Producers and directors: median earnings are just under $75,000
— Fashion designers: median earnings are slightly below $74,000
Some jobs combine artistry with engineering, such as architecture, a career that requires a specialized degree and licensure and where the median annual pay exceeds $80,000. Industrial design jobs — which focus on developing ideas for manufactured products — require a combination of creativity and tech savvy, and the median salary among these workers is just under $69,000.
There are also curatorial positions for individuals who dream of working at art galleries and museums. According to the Association of Art Museum Directors 2019 Salary Survey, compensation for curatorial roles in North America varies widely depending on hierarchy. The median salary for a curatorial assistant is about $42,000. There are many rungs on the curatorial career ladder, and each step up typically results in a pay increase. The median salary for a chief curator or director of curatorial affairs is $128,365.
Although some visual art and design occupations are lucrative, potential visual art students who are primarily interested in money should think twice about pursuing an art degree, experts say.
Mercedes Austin — founder and CEO of the tile company Mercury Mosaics — says she has never encountered a successful person who is motivated exclusively by money. “I found career opportunities that aligned with my gut,” Austin, who attended a fine arts program but left before receiving a degree, explained in an email. “I never used overthinking and logic. If I could land on things that felt right, I knew I could build the logistics around that through research, hard work and persistence.”
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