The image of a struggling artist is one we’re all familiar with — and while it can be challenging for artists to find steady work, many artists enjoy job stability in a role in which they can express their creativity.
People who get a degree in fine arts go on to fill a wide range of professional roles, from illustrators and video game artists to interior decorators and graphic designers. We spoke with several creative graduates to learn what unique roles they’ve achieved with their art degrees.
Grace Chon earned her Master of Fine Art in advertising and design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. For several years, Chon worked in advertising. And while the business can be a rewarding and lucrative career for art majors, Chon wasn’t feeling it. She was frequently stressed by her job, so she turned to photography as a creative outlet.
“I started taking headshots of homeless dogs to help get them adopted, and it quickly evolved into a side-hustle pet-photography business,” Chon says. “I worked nights and weekends until nine months later, I quit my day job to be an animal photographer.”
Chon has been running her pet photography business for 10 years now. She has shot ad campaigns, been featured in magazines, photographed celebs and their pets and published two books, including her recently published “Puppy Styled: Japanese Dog Grooming — Before & After.”
Chon loves that she gets to use her degree every day to make art with animals, and it’s been quite rewarding for her financially. “With my income (and my husband’s combined), we’ve been able to purchase a home in Los Angeles and renovate it.”
Art majors can take photos of more than just pets. Lexia Frank, for example, has made a living from her role as a luxury and destination wedding photographer after earning her degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin. “Much to my father’s dismay,” she added.
Frank’s father hoped she would pursue a career in medicine or science, but her passion for art motivated her to ignore her father’s wishes, earn a degree and launch a successful photography business.
“Now, 11 years in, I have built this business I’m incredibly proud of,” Frank says. “I am part art director, part photographer, part stylist, part social media expert, part marketer and advertiser. I do all my own design for marketing materials, website and any printed collateral. I utilize my art-history background as well as my dance background to pose my clients and models. I utilize everything I learned with my art degree in my day-to-day operations even though there was never a class that was on how to run a photography business.”
And sure, she might not make a doctor’s salary as her father had wished, but according to Frank, she does quite well. “The pay is good, and the perks are great: I’ve traveled to Egypt (twice!), Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Italy, you name it.”
Frank has also expanded her business to teach photographers through mentorships and internships.
Rachel Brandoff’s art degree took her on a route much different from photography. While she originally pursued careers in web design, teaching and mural painting and did her own painting on the side, Brandoff eventually discovered the career of art therapy.
Art therapists encourage clients to create art to express their feelings, improve social skills, resolve conflict and foster self-esteem. “I love working with clients and helping them to discover and engage their creativity in the service of problem-solving, personal expression, facilitating communication and raising self-awareness and esteem,” Brandoff says.
Art therapy does require additional education. Brandoff got her master’s degree in art therapy from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., after originally getting a bachelor’s degree in studio art from the University of Maryland, College Park. Starting salaries for art therapists in the New York City area, where Brandoff once practiced, range from $45,000 to $75,000 annually.
Brandoff now serves as an assistant professor specializing in art therapy at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and has been featured on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Studio Owner and Teacher
Diana Stelin, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and a master’s degree from Boston University, said she spent seven years managing an art gallery chain and bringing home six figures. (Still think pursuing an art degree will lead you nowhere?)
But after starting a family, Stelin looked for something a little less stressful. She now owns her own art studio in Boston offering classes to children and adults.
“I set my own hours, enjoy a balance between a rewarding job where I influence kids and adults alike and have time to develop my art career,” Stelin says. “I earn what any teacher earns”— in the $80,000 range for Boston — “and have lots of plans for online expansion and have been earning a steady supplemental income from my art sales and the talks I give in corporations.”
Even if you don’t have the desire to manage and open your own studio, you can still make money as an art teacher. And as Stelin mentioned, the beauty of having an art background is that you can make good money on the side through your own art sales or through freelance work.
Published Author and Senior Editor
Rain Turner has led an unconventional career for an art major. “In spite of my mother’s advice, I pursued a fine arts degree, with a plan of becoming an art teacher,” she says. “But life has a funny way of working out, and nearly 20 years later I’m a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and author of two books on creating fashion and art.”
Of course, writing and editing require skills outside of the art realm that Turner had spent years honing, but her knowledge of art and fashion played a pivotal role in her path to authorship and editing.
“My fine-art studies gave me the knowledge of color theory, composition and craftsmanship that I would use to write about art and fashion. During college, I created clothing and sold to local boutiques. I took extensive notes on my creations, which I then shared with About.com in 2007 when I auditioned as freelance host of their DIY Fashion vertical.”
Turner earned that gig with About.com and for eight years, established herself as a DIY fashion expert online. While sharpening her editing, photography and writing skills that the job demanded, Turner published her first book, “The Complete Guide to Customizing Your Clothes,” after Quarto Publishing noticed her work online. Turner went on to work as creative director for a marketing agency, published a second book, “String Art Magic,” and eventually landed a role at The Penny Hoarder.
“Through my writing career, I guess I did end up teaching art after all,” Turner reflected. “My books and articles teach how to make things… My art degree taught me how to fail, change things up, find my skills and push forward. If I hadn’t pursued art, I wouldn’t have a career in media.”
Still not sure what to do with your art degree? There are dozens of careers to explore, from fashion designer to printmaker to advertising specialist to museum curator. The jobs for art majors are incredibly diverse — you simply can’t paint them all with the same brush.