How to Become an Artist

To become an artist requires deep personal motivation and commitment. Artists are naturally creative people with high levels of talent. The work is demanding, often requiring years of creative effort.

Education and training

Formal art training usually begins in high school, where standards of visual art receive academic grading. These grades and the artist's portfolio are the basis of entry to academic college level training. For traditional artists the qualifications track is a series of degrees:

  • The basic undergraduate level of qualification is Bachelor's of Fine Arts (BFA). This includes artistic techniques, composition, media uses, drawing, graphic design and other related subjects.
  • The graduate degree is the Master of Fine Arts (MFA), which for fine artists is a further practical study in the field of visual arts. The degree is awarded on course works created under the technical auspices of the college.
  • Some colleges have also established PhDs in this field.

Informal career tracks

Not all artists follow an academic path. A more difficult path is through individual commercial art ventures, exhibitions, and freelance work, done without the formal qualifications. This method does have its drawbacks, because many contractors require evidence of qualifications, particularly in advertising and marketing.

The working environment

Most artists are by definition freelancers. They work on commissions, contracts, and sales. Common forms of regular employment are:

  • Advertising or marketing agency work: Graphics, logo designs, graphics production line roles, product graphics, working in house.
  • Commercial artists: Usually related to freelance work, but common as regular work for experienced artists. Commercial art is anything which involves artworks as paid commodities, from paintings or murals for commercial premises through to designing brochures, leaflets, and online content for commercial websites.
  • Exhibitions: The "pure art" form of artist’s work, which is payment for works by buyers in a formal sales setting, usually through a gallery or agent.
  • Markets and stalls: Sales of art works by the artist in a retail environment.

Income and expectations

In fine arts, payments for works by established popular artists can be in the millions of dollars. Most fine artists don't earn in those brackets and supplement sales with other forms of employment. The artist's income stream is usually based on multiple sources of income from various types of work.

The career environment

Because of the wide range of possible sources of employment, the artists career path of an artist gravitate to the more lucrative areas for income, often keeping their other creative works separate. Private commissions, which frequently supplement commercial work, are an illustration of the scope of possible career tracks for fine artists:

  • Commissioned portraits
  • Commissioned creative works
  • Theatrical stage sets
  • Works for private homes, professional offices, community groups, industry associations
  • Works for government agencies through contract or tender

This may seem to be an eclectic "anything and everything" methodology as a source of income, but these commissions can pay well. Added to commercial earnings, they can represent a good and sustainable income level. An artist's professional reputation alone can be a major factor in earning higher income.