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  • Writer's pictureHannah Ghafary

Stop Sleeping on Art Degrees.

Hello friends.

I'm back again and I'm super excited to share what I've put together for y'all this week. This post was inspired by a kind message I recently received from a follower. She reached out to let me know that, as her college experience is coming to a close, she found some comfort in one of my previous blog posts discussing art school and art as a career path.

Here's the deal: Growing up, I was always told I had a gift for making art, but I wasn't encouraged to pursue art seriously as a career. And I don't mean to say anything bad by that. I have a loving and supportive family who only wants the best for me; my parents were just simply under the common misconception that a career in art couldn't bring me all the financial security and independence that they wished for me in adulthood. So, for better or for worse, I was raised to believe that art was an unrealistic career path (simply unlikely, perhaps like being a Hollywood actress or an astronaut). Because of this mindset, when I started college, I struggled between pursuing my passion and choosing a major which might be more widely viewed to bring job security and post-grad success.

I chose to pursue a graphic communications major, but, with each passing semester, I found myself less and less excited to go to class. Ultimately, I was forced to ask myself a very important question: Should I invest time, energy, and money into getting a degree in something that I’m not passionate about? I came to the conclusion that if I was going to invest all of this into receiving a college degree, it was more important to me to learn about something that I truly have a passion for.

I thought that choosing art for a major meant that I had to sacrifice job security or financial stability in order to pursue my passions. But that's why I'm writing this blog today, because I wish that I had known sooner about all of the potential paths to success with an art degree.

Once I changed my major to art, I found myself surrounded by professors and many other creatives who had built successful and lucrative careers with art. Yet, remarkably, I haven't been able to find any thorough online sources that include all the information I've accrued during my time studying art. So, I've created a list of awesome careers and opportunities I never knew about before art school that you can pursue with an art degree:

Art Therapy

Art therapy is an integrative mental health therapy that uses art-making and creative processes to support personal growth mentally, emotionally, and physically. Jennifer Searing is a certified art therapist who works with patients at the Spirited Breeze Care Farm, a therapeutic retreat in rural Pennsylvania. Jennifer works with the patients to do creative activities such as sheering sheep on the farm and spinning their wool into thread to create artwork. The work that Jennifer and other art therapists do help individuals to foster personal growth by promoting insight, building self-esteem and self-awareness, and improving cognitive and motor functions.

In order to become a certified art therapist, you must complete a graduate school program for art therapy . Students that are looking to enter an art therapy master's program should first receive an undergraduate degree in fine arts, psychology or social work. Unfortunately, however, art therapists are not currently recognized as legal therapists in most states. This creates some geographical barriers of entry for this industry that are important to take into account when considering art therapy as a potential career. If you want to practice art therapy in states that do not legally recognize art therapists as a form of therapy, then you should be prepared to start a business of your own or go into practice with a licensed therapist or mental health professional.

Visual Merchandising

Do you ever wonder how stores like Anthropologie manage to feel so cozy and trendy all at the same time? That's because your whole experience from the moment you walk in the store is meticulously calculated and shaped by visual merchandisers. Visual Merchandising is a creative blend of art and marketing that is about creating a unique and memorable retail experience in the hopes of generating more sales. At retail stores like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, visual merchandisers have the job of designing everything from the store's displays to the window designs. They organize floor plans, colors, lighting and displays to showcase the brand's clothing and décor.

Visual merchandising is a job with opportunities both at a local and corporate level. For example, the retailer Zara employs a full-time team of visual-merchandising experts at their headquarters whose sole job is to design every aspect of the Zara stores, from the light-bulb color to the music being played while shoppers browse. Likewise, the Anthropologie corporate headquarters in Philadelphia has an exclusive team of thirteen visual merchandisers. Every season, these merchandisers develop a concept that will be implemented at Anthropology stores across the country. Then, at the individual store level, visual managers and senior display coordinators have the responsibility of using the colors and materials selected by the corporate Anthropologie team to create a unique visual experience that caters to the mood and personality of their location.

Artist Residency Programs

Artist residency programs are an amazing way to travel for free after undergrad while continuing to build your portfolio and resume. Residency programs host artists and other creative professionals to fulfill the unique creative needs of their organization. For example, the U.S. National Parks host artists throughout the year in more than 50 residency programs across the country to create artwork documenting our national parks. Whether they are living in a remote wilderness cabin at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska or painting in the Everglades off the coast of Florida, artists in residency have the opportunity to see all of the beauty our national parks have to offer while creating beautiful works inspired by their surroundings.

Pictured: Artist in residence at Glacier National Park.

Specific arrangements of each residency program varies. Programs can last anywhere from two weeks to a full year. Some programs don't include living arrangements, while others offer free housing, studio space, and a stipend to cover living expenses. The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska offers fifty artist residencies each year to artists from across the globe. Artists in residence receive a $100 stipend per week, free housing and a private studio during their eight-week stay. If you are interested in traveling after undergrad, I would definitely recommend researching the variety of opportunities offered by artist residency programs across the globe.

Album Cover Designers

Do you ever wonder who got lucky enough to design the artwork on your favorite albums? Many people don't know that an album cover designer typically designs an album from start to finish. This includes everything from art on the album cover to the back cover to the lyric sheet. Because of this, it is important to accrue a knowledge of graphic design in addition to your knowledge of visual arts in order to become a successful album cover designer.

Album cover designers can work in-house for major labels such as Universal Music Group or Sony Music Entertainment, or they can be their own boss and freelance. Freelance design artists often develop ongoing collaborations with bands and artists they work for, helping them over long periods of time to design multiple albums. Both the in-house and freelance path leave opportunity for a lucrative, six-figure salary.

Installation Artist, Alexa Meade, designed this iconic scene in Ariana Grande's music video for "God Is a Woman".

Installation Artist

Installation artists are hired by companies, such as museums and galleries, to beautify spaces by creating experiential artwork that interacts with their atmosphere. Being an installation artist is a creative career that will allow you to work with professional organizations sans the conventional office space. Another perk of being an installation artist is that every project will be unique in the sense that it will present new opportunities, new challenges and new colleagues you work with to bring it to life.

Refinery 29's 29 Rooms

Immersive entertainment experiences such as Refinery 29's 29 Rooms and TFTI hire installation artists to design their locations. These immersive photo experiences are a growing trend in the entertainment industry that is creating an expanded need for installation artists. The film industry also hires installation artists to provide artistic advice for film direction and sets. One example you might recognize is installation artist, Alexa Meade, who worked with Ariana Grande on her iconic music video for "God Is a Woman".

Commercial Artist

A commercial artist is a broad term to describe any artist that prints and sells their designs and artworks on mass-produced products. Some common examples include printing art on shirts, phone cases, stickers, etc. Sincerely Art and Alythuh are some examples of successful commercial artists. Most artists on Etsy, such as alilpickle, would also be referred to as commercial artists.

Alyssa Dawn Silos (@alythuh) via Instagram

Unfortunately, sometimes a stigma exists around commercial art and people question if it's somehow less valid or important than "high art". However, commercial artists have been around long before Instagram and social media. Famed pop-artist Andy Warhol was the OG artist to mass-produce and print his designs way back in the 1960's. I know several commercial artists that are making lucrative six figure salaries. This is a valid route, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise!

A large part of being a commercial artist in our modern world is online content curation. With the internet being only a click away, mastering e-commerce is a crucial part of being a successful modern commercial artist. If this is a path you are considering, you should begin to build and grow active social media platforms now .

Art Assistantships

Are you not ready to start adulting? You should consider taking your art degree and using it to get an art assistantship at a University. Across the globe, colleges and universities offer art assistantship programs that allow graduate students to receive a degree for free (or discounted tuition) in exchange for teaching or conduct research at the university. One barrier that discouraged me from considering applying to graduate school was the cost of tuition, and learning about art assistantships made me completely reconsider that possibility! An assistantship is a great route to take post-grad if you think you may potentially want to be a professor, or if you just want some more time to build your portfolio and apply to galleries.

Art assistantship programs vary from university to university, and there truly are some amazing opportunities out there if you're willing to do your research. Some universities offer a partial tuition waiver, while others offer a full tuition waiver (meaning you could attend graduate school for free). Some assistantship programs even offer a tuition waiver and an additional stipend to cover other expenses such rent, textbooks or groceries. For example, the University of Connecticut selects fifteen students each year to attend graduate school as a part of their assistantship program, which includes a full tuition waiver, an $11,000 yearly stipend, and health benefits for three years while you work at the university. Louisiana State University's assistantship programs offers selected students a full tuition waiver, as well as a $6,300 yearly stipend.

Art Professor

One more common route taken by those with an art degree is to pursue a career as an art professor. Teaching art at a college or university level is a competitive field that is a large time commitment (it's not a profession one can do casually). My art professors have told me they feel that teaching at a college level is more fulfilling because they feel can see more tangible results of their teaching in a few short years as students purse their post-grad careers. Moreover, the students who are there genuinely want to be there and art is their passion, as opposed to a primary school or high school experience.

In order to be an art professor at a college or university, one must first receive an undergraduate degree as a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). After receiving an undergraduate degree, one should plan to receive at least a Masters' degree in graduate school (receiving a PhD in art is typically more focused on art history, and is really only important if you're interested in teaching art history). An assistantship is a beneficial path to pursue in graduate school because it will allow you to gain teaching experience and improve your job opportunities post-grad.

There are so many potential paths to success with an art degree, and I hope that this information has left you feeling inspired by all of the possibilities out there for creatives like you and me. If you were interested in learning more about any of the careers and opportunities I listed above, feel free to check out the sources below and find more information. You can also email me or DM me questions, comments or feedback on my posts anytime! Don't forget that pursuing your passion doesn't have to mean sacrificing job security or stability ♡ See ya next week.


About Spirited Breeze Care Farm. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

American Art Therapy Association. (2020). State Advocacy. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

Bouranova, A. (2018, November 27). The Makers: The Artists Behind Anthropologie's Stunning Stores. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

Hanbury, M. (2018, September 24). Zara has a fleet of secret stores where it masters its shop design and plots how to get you to spend money. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

Lieber, C. (2014, December 04). Unraveling Anthropologie's Intoxicating Store Experience. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

McDonald, H. (2019, July 22). Getting a Job as an Album Cover Artist. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

Triche, N. (2019, January 07). Meet The Artist Behind The Iconic Water Scene In Ariana Grande's "God Is A Woman" Music Video. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

U.S. National Parks Services. (2017, July 7). Be an Artist-in-Residence. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

YouthIncMag. (2017, September 06). All You Need To Know About A Career As An Installation Artist. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from

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