Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Artists and Related Workers

Training requirements for artists vary by specialty. Although formal training is not strictly necessary for fine artists, 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 in Fine Arts (BFA) and Master in Fine Arts (MFA) degrees. Course work usually includes 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 fine arts leading to an Associate in Art or Bachelor in Fine Arts degree. 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 more than 200 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.

Those who want to teach fine arts at public elementary or secondary schools must have a teaching certificate in addition to a bachelorís 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 teachers elsewhere in the Handbook.)

Illustrators learn drawing and sketching skills through training in art programs and through extensive practice. Most employers prefer candidates with a bachelorís degree; however, some illustrators are contracted on the basis of portfolios of their past work.

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 4-year bachelorís degree combining art and premedical courses usually is preferred; a masterís degree in medical illustration is recommended. This degree is offered in only five accredited schools in the United States.

Evidence of appropriate talent and skill, displayed in an artistís 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 artistís best work. Assembling a successful portfolio requires skills usually developed in a bachelorís degree program or through other postsecondary training in art or visual communications. Internships also provide excellent opportunities for artists to develop and enhance their portfolios.

Artists hired by advertising agencies 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 magazine or childrenís book illustration. These artists may earn high incomes and can choose the type of work they do.

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.