Fine Arts, Design and Other Media
So, you’ve got some artistic talent but don’t know if you can do it for a living. The stereotype of the starving artist” still exists — despite the fact that art is everywhere — on the Web and in every TV commercial every advertisement even the wrapper of a candy bar! There’s even art in the design of your iPod. A team of industrial designers thought very carefully about what an iPod should look and feel like beyond what it should do.
Here’s the good news: If you have an artistic or design talent or interest and this doesn’t mean you have to be able to paint or create a sculpture a major and career in the arts offer much more than you may have realized.
There’s art for art’s sake pure human expression. We call this fine or traditional art. This line of study has been around for centuries and is probably what most people think of when they think of art school: a group of students sitting at easels painting. But fine arts students these days aren’t just painting.
Then there’s art for the purpose of designing better products or to communicate ideas or advertise. This is called “applied arts.” This area includes industrial and environmental design (such as designing products to look and perform better) and graphic design. There is also “non-traditional media which involves working in all these new media” that you enjoy every time you visit a Web site post on a blog watch a film or play a video game. These broad categories are often blurred and art students are applying skills from different disciplines to various media. Companies know the importance of having creative professionals that can deliver a strong visual message.
While art at its core implies creativity a career in the arts might just as well draw upon analytical skills. Along with aesthetics industrial designers might consider ergonomics earth-friendly materials functionality and economics. (Think of the VW Bug or architect Michael Graves’ popular line of household products for Target–where whimsy meets functionality from brooms to tea kettles.) Graphic designers must be good communicators as well as artists; they often combine art with words to express an idea. Increasingly they use video and animation and not just static or still images and words. Within the arts there are numerous specialties. “Industrial Design continues to be hot,” says Judith Aaron, Vice President for Enrollment at Pratt Institute. Aaron notes that “firms want to ensure that their [product] designs are current and desirable to young consumers.”
At Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) Environmental Design which encompasses areas such as product design is really growing. “The program and curriculum were developed out of an industry and workplace need for designers who have a broad experience in 3-D design from product design to architecture to urban planning,” says Ama Schulman, Admissions Counselor at MICA.
Another burgeoning field is the graphic novel called graphic not because its content is violent but because it relies on graphics — images — to convey at least half the story, the way a comic strip does. Popular graphic novels such as the Persepolis” series by Marjane Satrapi and the work of Harvey Pekar further popularized in the movie “American Splendor have fueled the trend, along with classics, such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus.”
“Animation and gaming are also growing but not just in the entertainment industry,” says Sue Hinkin, Dean of the Office of Career Services at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). “Graduates are finding opportunities in the scientific and forensic fields in education architecture interior design and in new forms of media delivery.”
If a career in the arts sounds like the right choice for you then your next step is to decide which educational path to follow. Many students opt for a four-year degree a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). You can earn a BFA at either a traditional college or university that houses an art department or at a school that specializes solely in the arts. Beyond the BFA students might decide to continue their studies through the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) level. Art galleries tend to favor artists who have received MFAs as a sign of maturity and longer dedication than the BFA conveys. You also can get a two-year AFA (Associate of Fine Arts) degree and then transfer to a four-year school to get your BFA.
No matter which path you choose keep in mind that art programs can be highly competitive. Here’s what you need to know.
Draw Outside the Lines
Colleges are not looking for students who are merely responding to a trend. A career in the arts takes tremendous dedication and passion and your application should demonstrate both. While transcripts recommendations test scores and the typical components of an application are important you improve your application with a strong portfolio.
Aaron says that Pratt’s admissions staff looks for a high level of student commitment. “Is this a student who has been drawing since she was a child or has she just recently discovered art and design?,” asks Aaron. “Does he keep a sketchbook or is the portfolio just made up of class assignments?” Even if a portfolio isn’t required it’s a good idea to send one. “Applicants are encouraged to present portfolios to enhance the application file and to be considered for scholarships,” says Sara Dorsey, Director of Admissions at SCAD.
You should begin to think about your portfolio well before you fill out your college applications. If you don’t keep a sketchbook, start,” says Aaron. “And draw, draw, draw.”
While a strong diverse portfolio is key do not underestimate the importance of academics. “Many prospective applicants are surprised to learn that we often deny more applications on the basis of a weak academic record than a below average portfolio,” says MICA’s Schulman.
Another element that students often overlook is the admissions interview, where they have an opportunity to really shine. We take a holistic approach to the admission decision says Jonathan Lindsay, Vice President, Marketing and Enrollment for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). We are looking at test scores the high school GPA the letter of recommendation and the artist’s statement along with the portfolio. An interview is highly recommended — we are trying to get to know the applicant.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
Open a copy of any art magazine these days and you’ll quickly see that the field of art has been blown wide open. There is no one dominant school or approach but rather a multitude of expressions. A video artist might experiment with infrared technology or a painter might think of his thickening canvas as sculpture. Artists devise whole gallery shows called “installations” that are more about the visitor experience than any one piece of art.
Art school curriculum encourages such diversity. “Students do not declare a major says Lindsay from SAIC. With the support of an academic advisor they assemble a sequence of courses that allows the individual to best realize their own artistic vision.”
At Pratt students are asked only to choose a broad field of study such as fine art writing industrial design or media arts but not to specialize until their junior year.
While artists are commonly thought to be unconcerned with business practical knowledge is encouraged for art career success. Sandy Britton Director of Enrollment Management at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University notes the importance of combining excellence in design with “strong business and practical real-world savvy” in order to create “working artists.” Lindsay echoes this noting that in addition to technical skills creativity and problem solving skills are “very valuable in today’s world.”
That leads us to the most practical question of all: How much do artists and other creative professionals earn? The truth is salaries are as wide ranging as the career choices available.
To prepare for your career take advantage of your school’s opportunities for internships and other workplace programs begin networking while you’re still a student and remember to always keep your portfolio well-stocked with your very best work whether your portfolio is online or on paper.
Here are the mean salaries for certain careers for graduates with art degrees. Of course with any salary figures” there can be quite a variation between geographic locations. Keep in mind also that these are average salaries among all individuals in the specified field. The starting salaries will naturally be less.
|Commercial and Industrial Designers:||$59,340|
|Fine Artists” Including Painters Sculptors and Illustrators:||$47,100|
|Multi-media Artists and Animators:||$58,030|
Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics — May 2006
Lisa Albers is a Seattle-based freelance writer. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of Miami, where she was a Michener Fellow.