Craft and fine artists held about 51,400 jobs in 2012.
About half of craft and fine artists are self-employed; others are employed in various private sector industries or in government.
Craft artists, for example, might work for companies that manufacture glass or clay products, or for museums, historical sites, or similar institutions. Fine artists are often employed by newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers. They also are employed by colleges and universities. Other types of artists and related workers work for the federal government, motion picture and video production companies, and advertising and public relations firms.
Many artists work in fine art or commercial art studios located in office buildings, warehouses, or lofts. Others work in private studios in their homes. Some artists share studio space, where they also may exhibit their work.
Studios are usually well-lighted and ventilated. However, artists may be exposed to fumes from glue, paint, ink, and other materials. They may also have to deal with dust or other residue from filings, splattered paint, or spilled cleaners and other fluids.
Part-time and variable work schedules are common for artists. Many hold another job, in addition to their work as an artist. During busy periods, artists may work overtime to meet deadlines. Self-employed artists can set their own hours.
Formal schooling is not required for craft and fine artists. However, many artists take classes or earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine arts, which can improve their skills and job prospects.
Formal schooling beyond a high school diploma is rarely required for craft and fine artists. However, it is difficult to gain adequate artistic skills, without some formal education in the fine arts.
Most craft and fine artists have at least a high school diploma. High school classes like art, shop, and home economics can teach prospective artists some of the basic skills they will need, such as drawing, woodworking, or sewing.
Many artists pursue postsecondary education and take classes or earn degrees that can improve their skills and job prospects. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts. In addition to studio art and art history, programs may include core subjects, such as English, social science, and natural science.
Independent schools of art and design also offer postsecondary training, which can lead to a certificate in an art-related specialty or to an associate’s, bachelor's, or master’s degree in fine arts.
In 2013, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) accredited approximately 330 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. Most of these schools award a degree in art.
Medical illustrators must have a demonstrated artistic ability and a detailed knowledge of human and animal anatomy, living organisms, and surgical and medical procedures. They usually need a bachelor's degree combining art and premedical courses. Most medical illustrators, however, choose to get a master's degree in medical illustration. Four accredited schools offer this degree in the United States.
Education gives artists an opportunity to develop their portfolio, which is a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities. Portfolios are essential, because art directors, clients, and others look at them when deciding whether to hire the artist or to buy their work.
Those who want to teach fine arts at public elementary or secondary schools usually must have a teaching certificate in addition to a bachelor's degree. Advanced degrees in fine arts or arts administration are usually necessary for management or administrative positions in government, management positions in private foundations, and teaching positions in colleges and universities. For more information on workers who teach art classes, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, and postsecondary teachers.
Craft and fine artists improve their skills through practice and repetition. They can train in several ways other than—or in addition to—formal schooling. Craft and fine artists can train with simpler projects before attempting something more ambitious.
Some craft and fine artists learn on the job from more experienced artists. Others attend noncredit classes or workshops or take private lessons, which may be offered in artists’ studios or at community colleges, art centers, galleries, museums, or other art-related institutions.
Still other craft and fine artists work closely with another artist on either a formal or informal basis. Formal arrangements may include internships or apprenticeship programs. Artists hired by firms often start with relatively routine work. While doing this work, however, they may observe other artists and practice their own skills.
Craft and fine artists advance professionally as their work circulates and as they establish a reputation for their particular style. Many of the most successful artists continually develop new ideas, and their work often evolves over time.
Many artists do freelance work while continuing to hold a full-time job until they are established as professional artists. 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 like cartooning or children's book illustrations. These artists may earn high incomes and can choose the type of work they do.
Craft and fine artists typically have an interest in the Building, Creating and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Creating or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a craft and fine artist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Craft and fine artists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Artistic ability. Craft and fine artists create artwork and other objects that are visually appealing or thought-provoking. This usually requires significant skill in one or more art forms.
Business skills. Craft and fine artists must promote themselves and their art to build a reputation and to sell their art. They often study the market for their crafts or artwork to increase their understanding of what potential customers might want. Many craft and fine artists sell their work on the Internet, so developing an online presence is an important part of their art sales.
Creativity. Artists must have active imaginations to develop new and original ideas for their work.
Customer-service skills. Craft and fine artists, especially those who sell their work themselves, must be good at dealing with customers and potential buyers.
Dexterity. Most artists work with their hands and must be good at manipulating tools and materials to create their art.
Interpersonal skills. Artists often must interact with many people, including co-workers, gallery owners, and the public.
The median annual wage for craft and fine artists was $44,380 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,200, and the top 10 percent earned more than $93,220.
The median annual wages for craft and fine artist occupations in May 2012 were as follows:
- $44,850 for fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators
- $29,600 for craft artists
- $59,840 for all other artists and related workers
Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely. Some charge only a nominal fee, while they gain experience and build a reputation for their work. Others, such as well-established freelance fine artists and illustrators, can earn more than salaried artists. Many, however, find it difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling paintings or other works of art.
Part-time and variable work schedules are common for artists. Many also hold another job, in addition to their work as an artist. During busy periods, artists may work overtime to meet deadlines. Self-employed artists can set their own hours.
Employment of craft and fine artists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.
Employment growth of artists depends in large part on the overall state of the economy, because purchases of art usually are optional. During good economic times, more people and businesses are interested in buying artwork; during economic downturns, they generally buy less.
Although there is always a demand for art by collectors and museums, the employment of artists can be affected by the level of charitable giving to the arts, which has been decreasing somewhat in recent years.
In addition, job growth for craft artists may be limited by the sale of inexpensive, mass-produced items designed to look like handmade American crafts. However, continued interest in locally made products and craft goods sold online will likely offset some of these employment losses.
Demand for illustrators who work on a computer will increase, as media companies use more detailed images and backgrounds in their designs. Illustrators and cartoonists who work in publishing may see job opportunities decline, as traditional print publications lose ground to other media forms. However, new opportunities are expected to arise, as the number of electronic magazines, Internet-based publications, and video games grows.
Competition for jobs as craft and fine artists is expected to be strong, because there are more qualified candidates than available jobs. Only the most successful craft and fine artists receive major commissions for their work.
Despite the competition, studios, galleries, and individual clients are always on the lookout for artists who display outstanding talent, creativity, and style. Talented individuals who have developed a mastery of artistic techniques and marketing skills will have the best job prospects.
Competition among artists for the privilege of being shown in galleries is expected to remain intense, as will competition for grants from funders, such as private foundations, state and local arts councils, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Because of their reliance on grants, and because the demand for artwork is dependent on consumers having extra income to spend, many of these artists will find that their income changes with the overall economy and the federal budget.
For more about art and design and a list of accredited college-level programs, visit
For more information on careers in the craft arts and for a list of schools and workshops, visit
For more information on careers in the arts, visit
For more information on careers in illustration, visit
For more information on careers in medical illustration, visit
For information on grant-funding programs and other local resources for artists, contact your state arts agency. A list of these agencies is available from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
For more information on how the federal government awards grants for art, visit