Degrees Needed for Art Careers

There are four main types of degrees one can pursue in art: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Although many artists can be self-taught, an art degree from an accredited art school or college can prepare artists for many rewarding art careers. Degrees show employers that artists have the skills, abilities, and knowledge to perform art-related tasks. In fact, many employers require a bachelor’s degree for many art positions in the marketing, advertising, and publishing fields. Some managerial positions may even require a master’s degree. Because of this, plus the competition from many other talented artists, it is to one’s advantage to go to school and gain the education needed should you want to pursue art as a career.
Degree programs also give students skills they would not have had exposure to otherwise, such as the ability to accept criticism. Many artists feel their work is the best and cannot be improved upon in any way. However, art teachers will no doubt feel differently and will give constructive criticism and advice to help students improve their artwork.

Degrees Needed for Art Careers
One thing to note when choosing to go to art school is to be specific about your career goals. What do you plan to accomplish with your art degree? A degree in art is very general and can actually limit your career options, so narrow it down to a specialty that you have interest in. There are many types of art, so choose one that fits your interests and goals. There are many possibilities, including animation, computer design, digital media, graphic design, interactive media, multimedia production, and special effects.

If you think you may not have time to study for an art degree, think again. More and more art degrees can be obtained completely online, meaning you never have to attend classes in person. You can study from the comfort of your own home or anywhere you have an Internet connection. Plus, you can study at any time of the day, whether it be in the early morning, during your lunch hour, or at midnight. In addition, some online college degrees offer accelerated classes so you complete them in less time and move toward your degree and new career even quicker.

Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is a two-year college degree. Most community colleges and art schools offer an associate’s degree in many art-related subjects, such as advertising, marketing, ceramics, costume design, graphic design, television production, broadcasting, drawing, photography, journalism, and web development. Although some art careers may require a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree is a good stepping stone toward that degree and is sufficient for some careers. The only prerequisite for most associate’s degrees is a high school diploma, though some schools may require assessment tests.

What you learn during an associate’s degree program depends on your area of study and the type of school you attend. If you attend a community college, you will have to take classes such as English, math, history, and science, in addition to core art classes, in order to graduate. However, if you attend an art school, your academic focus will be solely on the specialization of art you choose. For example, if you choose graphic design, you learn how to use graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. You also learn all the graphic design skills and techniques needed to succeed in the industry, plus how to use digital cameras and scanners. The main focus of an associate’s degree is to give students the skills they need to obtain an entry-level position upon graduation.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is required for art careers that are more technical in nature, such as web design, video game design, and architecture. Most management positions also require this type of degree. A bachelor’s degree is a four-year undergraduate degree given to those who complete 120+ units of coursework in a discipline. Depending on the school, there may be prerequisites, such as assessment scores or a portfolio project, prior to admission to a bachelor’s degree program.

There are actually two types of bachelor’s degree: a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). A BFA is a professional degree given to students who graduate from an arts program such as art, music, dance, and theater. A BA is a general degree that has very few practical classes, whereas the BFA offers practical classes and mostly studio/lab-related classes. The BFA, however, is more limiting because students take only art-related courses. Although this is good in many ways, if the student decides not to pursue a career in the fine arts, then the degree is basically useless. With a BA, students take a variety of classes, many unrelated to their discipline, but this makes them better rounded. When looking for employees, most employers prefer those with a BA because it means that person has a variety of skills and knowledge.

As with associate’s degrees, students pursuing a bachelor’s degree take classes geared toward their focus in art, plus academic classes such as history, math, and English. Most art schools, however, do not teach academic classes, so that students can spend the least amount of time possible gaining the art skills they need to succeed in an art career. Depending on the student’s degree focus, he or she will take classes in computer art, digital media, photography, graphic design, page layout, typography, animation, studio art, and drawing techniques.

Master’s Degree

Master’s degrees are highly intensive graduate school programs that usually last two years. Master’s degrees are usually needed for those looking to teach at art schools and colleges or for those aspiring to become managers in an art field. A master’s degree is a coveted degree that prepares artists for a variety of art careers. A master’s degree first requires a bachelor’s degree, which does not necessarily have to be in art but preferably should be related somehow. You may also need a certain amount of work experience, samples of your work, test scores (specifically the Graduate Record Exam [GRE]), transcripts of classes taken previously (most graduate programs require at least a 3.0 grade point average), and letters or recommendation. Check your school of choice to see what is required to apply.

Learn More About the GRE

As with the bachelor’s degree, there are two types of master’s degree: a Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Those looking for professional art careers, such as artist, musician, or dancer, choose the MFA. The MFA focuses on hands-on training, with only a small percentage of time dedicated to liberal arts courses. The MA, on the other hand, spends an equal amount of time on hands-on training and liberal arts courses. The MA can also take less time to complete.

There are master’s degree programs available in many types of art. Degrees are available in animation, art education, art history, media design, creative writing, new media journalism, screenwriting, special effects, graphics design, game design, film, visual arts, and interior design. Master’s degree programs in the arts focus on creativity, art creation, collaborative work, and technical skills. Some even have classes that teach students business and leadership skills. Art history degrees require a foreign language component. Students looking to teach art will learn to teach classes and create curricula.


A doctorate degree, also known as a Ph.D., is the highest level of education one can obtain, making it the most prestigious. Many Ph.D. graduates go on to become art professors at universities. In fact, “doctorate” comes from a Latin word meaning “teaching license.” A doctoral degree in art is also useful for those interested in art careers such as museum curator or director, academic research lead, or consultant. A doctorate takes an average of seven years to complete, or four years after receiving a bachelor’s degree. Many Ph.D. programs don’t require a master’s degree. Instead, the university will gauge a student’s knowledge, usually by qualifying exams. When the applicant passes the exams, he or she is considered a Ph.D. student.

Doctorates usually require 30-40 advanced-level college courses, which equates to 90-120 semester units. The courses teach analysis and critical thinking. Doctoral degrees often culminate with a thesis or dissertation, which is an elaborate document demonstrating the student’s research and findings on a particular topic. This thesis or dissertation is reviewed by a committee before the degree is conferred.

Many doctoral programs are developing an online presence to allow working professionals the opportunity to continue their education in their free time. For many art fields, the master’s degree is the terminal degree, meaning it is the highest degree one can earn in that field. There are very few doctoral programs in art, but the most popular ones include architecture, applied arts, visual arts, and performing arts.