It’s been said that an artist is born, not made. But while some are drawn from an early age to a particular artistic technique or material, or have a natural aesthetic sense, everyone must develop skill at their chosen medium through instruction and practice. Compared to more formalized careers with clearly defined educational pathways and professional accreditations, the paths to finding the right educational track and achieving artistic competence and employability are more freeform and up to individual choice.


The occupations listed in this section are a mix of visual fine arts, fine craft, and applied trades, but with the exception of work as an art historian or critic, all require the human hand.


Traditionally, fine artists created objects enjoyed purely for their aesthetic value (a painting), while craft artists created work that is functional. But these distinctions are not really useful; today’s BFA and BA degree programs incorporate all these subjects and more into their fine arts curricula, and some modern makers create work that eludes definition as fine or craft art, existing in both spaces.


For clarity, we divide artistic occupations into two groups, Fine Arts and Crafts, and Artisans. Fine Arts and Crafts comprise ceramics, glass arts, painting, printmaking, metalworking, photography, sculpture, textile/fiber arts, and woodworking; related professions and specializations such as critic or art conservator are also included. Artisans are where we have grouped makers skilled in functional trades such as floral designers, furniture makers, leatherworkers, sketch artists, tailors and seamstresses, tattoo artists, and upholsterers.




Educational qualifications play a complex role in arts careers, depending on an artist’s objectives, including whether they would like to teach. But the work to access post-secondary fine arts training starts in secondary school, when a young artist builds a portfolio of original artwork that will be required to apply for admission to art school or a four-year college. To be considered as an apprentice to a master craftsman or artisan, you may also have to present a portfolio for review.


In addition to art classes, some secondary school systems, communities, and states operate magnet schools centered on the arts and schools for gifted and talented secondary school students. But other, under-resourced school systems and communities have cut their arts programs severely due to budget constraints. Because the federal government does not require services for gifted students or provide guidance on the subject, it is necessary to investigate resources on a state by state and community by community basis.


Aspiring artists have a variety of post-secondary educational options.


Artists or artisans seeking a focused, specific skill may find technical schools a good option, although the U.S. vocational system is not as well-organized or –resourced as some other countries’. Others choose to learn in workshops sponsored by art guilds and craft schools, from another artist, or by informally apprenticing with a practicing professional.


Online art schools offer certifications upon completion of varying lengths of study. Community colleges have two-year degrees that can also serve as preliminary credit for entry into a four-year college program.


Four-year college students may obtain a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in studio arts, although this type of degree usually requires more course credits in general, non-art studies compared to a BFA.

A four-year Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) degree program is a more intensive way for undergraduate artists to fully immerse themselves in an academic program while honing artistic skills in different media and discovering where they wish to concentrate.


For artists who also wish to teach, additional degrees may be necessary. Public school systems may require a Master’s (MA) degree, or parallel certification in education while obtaining a college degree. To teach at the college level, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), MA, or PhD is necessary. Non-tenure-track, adjunct teaching positions are now more common than tenured positions.


In addition to their purpose in sharpening artistic focus, intellectual depth, and craftsmanship in a chosen medium, MFA programs can also serve as important venues for making professional contacts while still in school, and learning how to present and talk about your work in a compelling and focused way to potential exhibitors and buyers. Some believe the MFA ‘prequalifies’ artists in the eyes of critics, lending additional credibility to artists as seriously committed to their vocation. This additional postgraduate educational credential may also weigh in an artist’s favor when their work is being considered for representation by a gallery, or when an artist is being considered for employment in an administrative or curatorial staff position by a museum, gallery, or arts-related organization.


Education Resources

Arts Business Institute

The Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design

Carolina Designer Craftsmen Guild

Center for Craft

Northwest Designer Craftsmen

Piedmont Craftsmen, Inc.


Southern Highland Craft Guild

American Craft Council list of schools with craft workshops and courses

National Association of Schools of Art & Design. NASAD accredits 360+ postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design, most offering a degree in art.

National Association for Gifted Children Gifted by State list . Accredited institutions search function

Best Fine Arts schools

Best MFA graduate programs

American Craft Council list of schools with craft workshops and courses



Employment Path


Traditionally, after completing their education, an early career fine artist or craftsperson makes art full time, builds their resume with juried or group shows, and competes for critical attention, selection for solo shows, and gallery representation and sales of their work.


Artists in all stages of their career may also choose to compete for stipended artist residencies, fellowships, and grants from state and local arts councils, and possibly supplement their income with non-arts work and/or teaching.


Realistically, most early career artists—and many later in their career—work at second jobs to supplement their artistic earnings. A BFA or BA in fine art, or MFA, may increase an artist’s chances at being employed by a museum, gallery, cultural institution, or other arts-related institution. Some artists find gig economy work gives them the time and flexibility they need for making art. Others are able to translate their artistic or craft skills into commercial or industrial employment, such as metal artists who become jewelry designers, or sculptors who are skilled metal fabricators.



Fine Arts and Crafts and Artisans Career Resources


Alliance of Artist Communities residencies search tool

American Craft Council list of craft guilds

American Craft Council list of craft museums

American Craft Council list of state arts and crafts councils

Americans for the Arts


ArtSource list of arts-related organizations


Association of Art Museum Curators


Association of Professional Art Advisors


Brown’s Resources in Art and Architecture on the Web Associations


College Art Association of America


Craft Emergency Relief Fund


James Renwick Alliance James Renwick Alliance


National Assembly of State Arts Assemblies


The National Association of Independent Artists


Society of Arts + Crafts


WebWire trade publications by industry