While many people believe that they have the capacity to define what art is, it is much harder to pin down than it might seem. The general definition of fine arts says, only, that it is the production of “beautiful objects.”
To add more substance behind this definition, we can look at the three most common branches of art: visual arts, performing arts, literature. While there is a lot of borrowing that occurs between the three disciplines, it is the first two that are often used in referring to a master or bachelor of the arts.
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Types of Art Degrees and Programs
The most common type of art degree you are likely to receive in any university will be either a bachelor of fine arts, or BFA, and a master of fine arts, an MFA. Like the definition of fine arts, the subjects that these degrees over is also quite broad. People who are receiving degrees in this field can be anything from art theorists to ceramics-makers.
Fine Arts Degrees
Being a scholar in the fine arts will often mean encountering both new movements as well as new artists that challenge your ideas, giving you access to a wide array of ideas. This is reflected in the diversity of subjects within fine arts programs.
Here are some ideas of some fields that you can specialize in and can help you narrow down your future college of art:
- Art design
- Drawing and Painting
- Studio arts
- Digital media
Film School Degrees
While specializing in film can come with the same title as other fine arts degrees, depending on what kind of university you attend, film school degrees offer an incredible range of art programs. While some young artists choose to attend art universities dedicated to film and film production, students can also receive degrees in subjects like film theory from liberal arts colleges.
The types of degrees you can expect from film schools cover traditional topics like editing, other technical skills, and screenwriting – or some other, contemporary subjects like game art.
Some programs that might be worth checking out if you’re interested in what film school can offer you are:
- Computer animation
- Film and television production
Art History Degrees
Art history degrees are ideal for people who are interested in curatorial work, museums, galleries or art auctions. While many people often think of art degrees as pertaining to creative fields, it can also mix with subjects such as business, finance and history. If you are interested in how these two worlds interact, specializing in art history – regardless of your artistic inclination – can be for you.
Art history degrees and the courses they offer will differ from program to program. Some degrees structure their degrees around specific movements in art while others allow for more of a focus on one specific period in art history. It is a field as broad as any in the art world, so make sure to identify which moment in art history – baroque, pop art – interests you the most.
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What Do You Study in Art and Design?
It’s common for a layperson to make a distinction between art – painting, sculpting, photographing and performing, and design – fashion, architecture, furniture and so on but, in reality, the line between art and design is nowhere near so clear-cut.
An obvious example would be monuments such as the Vietnam War Memorial in the US.
Designed by Maya Lin, an undergraduate student at Yale University at the time, this poignant reminder of one of America’s darkest hours is now considered a work of art, with all of the raw emotion it evokes.
Here's some food for thought: painters design their work by sketching rough lines that will later be covered by the artist’s application of colour and sculptors design the figures they will eventually hew. Even potters have a design in mind – if not on paper before they centre the lump of clay on their pottery wheel.
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You might contend that such planning flies in the face of the creative spirit.
That logic overlooks the fact that the design IS the manifestation of the creative process; the production of art is just that: production. Again we draw on Maya Lin’s design to make our point.
Nobody could reasonably argue that, at 21 years old, Ms Lin possessed the building skills necessary to bring her design to life; indeed, she was not even consulted during the building of it – and she certainly did not take part in the work.
However, the monument that she envisioned and designed continues to impact people on a visceral level, even those who were not alive during that war.
You might consider that (and other memorials) an example of the classic ‘brains versus brawn’ scenario except, when it comes to art, it would be more like ‘creation versus execution’, with design being the creative act and the execution resulting in a work of art.
These fine distinctions and more, such as creative thinking skills, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination are part and parcel of Arts & Design curricula.
On a more pragmatic level, your course syllabus will reflect the direction you intend to take in your studies.
For instance, if art history calls to you, your classes would be more lecture-based and angled more heavily toward your writing papers.
On the other hand, if you aim to become a painter, sculptor or architect, you can count on spending a substantial portion of your time at university in the studio or in front of a drawing board.
In all cases, expect your first year of art studies as an undergraduate to include art fundamentals. These include concepts of visual art as well as design.
If your study programme is studio-based – sculpting, painting and the like, you can expect instruction on using colour for maximum effect and further development of your drawing skills. You will also delve deeper into the concept and execution of three-dimensional work.
While you may not have chosen Art History as your major, you will still have art history lessons, perhaps in the history of art and design techniques and practices.
Once finished with your foundation year, you can focus your studies on the branch/type of art you wish to practise, anything from printmaking to painting to fashion design and even performing.
As you progress through your course of study, you will be introduced to new techniques and materials and even theories that drive art creation.
Types of Design Subjects
Getting an art and design degree can be different from regular degrees in fine arts because of their highly interdisciplinary nature – coordinating subjects like the visual arts and physical composition. Because the majority of design products are physical, many young artists who go into this field can also open up their own retail or artisanal store.
Here are some of the most common programs you are likely to be awarded if you go to a college of art and design.
While fashion design subjects can seem like a narrow field, composed of only designing and producing apparel – fashion design degrees encompass everything related to the fashion industry. The subjects that it covers can range anywhere from jewellery making and graphic design to illustration and printmaking.
While you are likely to find courses within schools of art that are related to the fashion world, many students interested in this field normally choose to attend a university that is specifically for fashion design. One such example is the London College of Fashion, which offers undergraduate degrees in subjects like design or product and furniture design.
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While you may not realize it, the design of everything from hospital rooms to malls have been designed with a specific purpose or goal in mind. The rooms and spaces you encounter on a daily basis are studied in the subject of interior design.
Interior design requires the study of many different subjects, and is closely linked to the field of project management. The Royal College of Art offers courses like 3D design or branding and communication.
Thanks to the explosion of ever-more affordable smartphones, photography is now one of the most accessible fields. The advantageous part about studying photography relative to other arts subjects is that many beginners courses and art programs in high school or at the undergraduate level can sometimes lend cameras and equipment out to their students.
Depending on what type of photography you’d like to pursue, you’ll have to get different equipment. For example, the types of cameras needed for wildlife photography are naturally going to be different from the ones used at an event’s photography company. Falmouth University and the University of Gloucestershire both offer bachelor programs in photography,
Students who study animation can come from a wide range of subjects. Some students who major in film only discover, through the course of their program, about their passion for animation. Regardless of the motivation, students who enrol in animation programs will be taking courses like graphic design, multimedia and more.
If you’re interested in getting a degree in animation, it can be useful to start by checking out De Montfort University or the University of Edinburgh. Majoring in animation is also a great idea if you’d like to study abroad, as many of the world’s greatest universities have reputable programs in animation.
Graphic design is one of those jobs that bleed into many different aspects of our lives. For example, while there is a team of graphic designers working behind the latest video game – they can also be found working for companies and organizations.
This art program is also great for people who enjoy freelancing. Some of the best universities for graphic design are the University of Brighton and Arts University Bournemouth. Graphic design is for people who are seeking to combine their two passions: computer software and visual arts.
Programs in architecture will be slightly different from any of the other art and design degrees. While many people don’t often consider architects to be fine artists, architecture has often either followed or preceded all of the major movements in art. Incidentally, this is also why architecture is so important for art history.
Getting a degree in architecture will mean that, for the majority, you will be awarded with a Bachelor of Science (BS), dependent on what field you decide to specialize in. Some of the topics you will be able to study in this field are Sustainable Design, Metropolitan Design or Industrial Design. If you’re interested in checking out some degree programs in the UK, make sure to check out the University of Sheffield and Newcastle University.
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Which Degree is Best in Arts?
That question would be better asked like this: why are you pursuing a degree in Arts?
The obvious answer would be that you have an overwhelming urge to create art and wish to refine and legitimise your skills. Perhaps you have an innate talent for bringing about objects of beauty or you have a spiritual need to make the world a more beautiful place.
All of these are great reasons to major in Art and Design but other factors come into play when considering which Arts degree plan to choose.
We hardly need to invoke the starving artist not-quite-a-stereotype, do we?
Vincent Van Gogh is a prime example of an artist who suffered for his art. He died far too young; a malnourished, disease-riddled genius of a calibre that many aspiring painters hope to reach – minus the personal ills he suffered.
It goes without saying that, if you’re going to invest in your higher education, you expect some return. How much of a return will vary depending on the type of art you create.
Artists who create works solely for their aesthetic beauty – fine art, in other words, will have a hard row to hoe when it comes to earning. As in the entertainment and sports industries, only the cream of the crop earns substantially.
The average annual income for a fine artist ranges between £14.500 and £53.500 per year – hardly a living wage until you get to the upper end of the scale. Only the best-known painters command stratospheric sums.
On the other hand, a graphic artist – one who creates art mainly on the computer could start out with a median yearly income of £24.700. Such artists are in high demand for every field from web advertising to digital filmmaking.
At the higher end of the earnings scale for those with an art degree, we find fashion design and architect. We'll discuss more art-related jobs and their income later but, for now, suffice to say that, if earning potential is your primary concern, you might choose an Arts degree plan that will give you access to higher-paying work.
It’s not uncommon to follow in parents’ footsteps, especially if those parents or family members further back in your ancestry started a firm that still operates today.
Examples of such include a photography studio, an architectural firm, a portrait-painting business and others.
If your reason for studying art is primarily to take one day take over the family business, the best art degree for you is the one that that concern caters to.
Aptitude, A.K.A. Talent
If you have neither family ties to the art world nor any particular need to earn as much as possible as quickly as possible, you may want to find the courses that suit your artistic ability.
A particular quality of Art & Design degrees that other majors don’t have is flexibility.
After mastering fundamental art creation concepts, you will have free reign to explore the breadth of your artistic vision through a variety of media, from digital to actual.
So, while you may have an aptitude for working with a certain medium – and you should explore it fully, don’t limit your art studies to just that one; branch out and see what else your creative mind is capable of.
Deciding your art education depends on many factors; some external to you and others entirely up to you. The one you choose will inevitably be the best… for you.
Types of Jobs You Can Get with an Art Degree
It can be difficult to find out what you’d like to do as your career, especially because of the fact that today’s economy is influencing people to have more than one career over the span of their working lifetime. What is always good to be, however, is prepared – be sure to check out what types of jobs and salaries your degree can get you with the right preparation.
The dream for many artists is to be able to live off of their art alone. This can include having their artwork on display for galleries or museums, of simply collaborating with local coffee shops and businesses. If you are interested in selling your own work, running your own gallery and collaborating with other artists, this might be a good field to look into.
One thing to note is that there is a very small percentage of artists that manage to support themselves on their artwork alone. As with any other artist, like performing artist, it is often necessary to have more than one job if you decide to try and live off of your art in order to earn a decent income.
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While you may have never heard of the field of arts administration before, you have definitely been at the receiving end of their services. Jobs in this world can be found anywhere from NGOs, galleries to museums. This field doesn’t so much deal with the production of your own art but of facilitating the movement of art from people and places to another.
Some of common careers you are likely to encounter in this field are in art institutions, national libraries, or galleries. Arts administration can combine your love of art and other subjects such as finance, project management and art history.
While it is impossible to go through all the possible careers you can attain with an art and design degree, here are some more jobs you will likely encounter on your job hunt:
- Art teacher
- Film industry
- Performing Arts industry
That's all well and good, you might say, but what about the money?
What Art Jobs Pay the Most?
To round out this narrative, we return to the topic of money: where in the art world can you earn the most money?
Art & Design Careers You Haven’t Thought About
When one thinks of art, photographs are generally not considered. After all, we all snap pics with our phones; does that mean we are all artists?
Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.
Photography is one of the most accessible art fields, and one of the broadest: you might photograph wildlife, landscapes or cityscapes; people or events. You could specialise in macro-photography – shooting insects or other tiny subjects.
The median annual salary for photographers is around £35.000; you stand to make more if you’re a freelancer.
Makeup is another art not traditionally associated with an art degree but, ask anyone who routinely faces a camera: they will tell you that skilful makeup application is indeed an art well worth paying for.
Makeup artists generally take home around £25.000 per year, usually supplemented by tips. Experienced freelance makeup artists can easily earn three times that amount!
Becoming an art dealer, especially in a gallery can be exciting and lucrative. You might, for instance, travel to other countries to negotiate purchases, and you would have custody of art world treasures, if only for a while.
A skilled art gallery dealer could start out at £30.000 and earn substantially more on commission.
Mainstream Art and Design Careers
Teaching art is another line of work few aspiring artists think of when imagining their future but it is one of the steadiest, stablest careers you could have as an artist. Whether you teach art in primary or secondary school or lecture at university, you can count on a steady paycheck, starting out around £28.000 per year.
Becoming a fine artist is perhaps the most obvious career path for fine arts majors but, unless you are remarkably talented, it is difficult to make good money until years later.
You might start out assisting an established artist in their studio. As an added benefit, you could be granted access to tools and materials to work on your own projects but, at the very least, you would have a chance to refine your technique before striking out on your own.
The art assistant’s pay is rather low but, once you get going, you might earn as much as £35.000 a year.
Architects might arguably belong in the next category but, here again, unless you head your own firm or have several projects under your belt, you should expect an average of £43.000 per year.
Not too shabby but by no means in the highest art degree earnings bracket.
The Top-Grossing A&D Fields
Graphic designers are looking at serious money, even for entry-level positions. A talented graphic artist can earn upwards of £46.000 after just a few years of work while those who work in advertising and film can easily rake in upwards of £60.000.
Art directors, those who oversee magazine layouts and fashion shoots, are very well compensated for the stress they endure. Their £52.000 average annual salary doesn’t include bonuses and benefits packages, which can add several thousands of pounds to their pay packet each year.
Finally, fashion designers: top-of-the-heap in the art world with salaries ranging in the upper £50.000 to lower £60.000. Again the caveat, though: if you’re just starting out, working in an established designer’s studio will net you a lot less money but will be a boon for you experience-wise.
Earning money is a life necessity but creating art is a calling.
If you’re one of the lucky few with a talent for creating art, no one could fault you for making career choices based on money but, please, keep making our world more beautiful in any way you can!