Education - 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.