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Unlike becoming a doctor or lawyer, there's nothing stopping you from calling yourself an artist as soon as you create your first work of art. Still, making a living as an artist can require a knowledge of networking, marketing and a variety of artistic techniques -- things that you can learn through education and experience.
Start Making Art
Your desire to become an artist likely stems from a love for making art, so the first step toward a career as an artist involves making art as often as possible. Simply working with various types of materials, whether they be paint, clay or found art items, will help you begin to develop important creative and technical skills. Constantly experimenting and employing this learning-by-doing approach can help you improve your skills with each piece you make.
While it's not an absolute requirement, you can gain a lot from pursuing formal education as an artist. You can enroll in colleges or universities with respected art departments, or simply take courses at community colleges or through private art training schools. A formal education can help you learn about art history and techniques to improve your foundation in art, and also let you develop your skills in your own specialty. If you decide to go the art school or university route, check out the rankings offered by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design to find out what the different schools offer and how they're ranked among other schools. During your education you'll likely gain a new level of artistic ability. But you should also take classes in marketing, business and e-commerce to gain skills that help you market and sell your art.
Work with Other Artists
Exposure to other artists' creative processes will help you grow as an artist. If you can afford to help out with expenses, sharing a studio space with artists working in various genres is a way to learn new skills and techniques. You should also make it a point to visit art shows, art fairs, festivals and galleries to network with other artists as well as studio and gallery owners. Bring samples of your own work as well as business cards and other marketing materials to pass around and possibly make connections that can help you sell your work. Connect with artists by joining artists' associations in your area, such as the National Association for Independent Artists or the National Association of Women Artists. Associations are a great way to learn new sales approaches, get help with marketing or find galleries willing to show your work. Networking and getting your name out there is key to making a living as an artist.
Making a Living
As an artist, selling your work is just one way to make a living. You can do this at art fairs, galleries or online through your website or sites such as eBay. The more you network with local businesses willing to allow you to display and sell your work, the more successful you'll be in that area. Other ways to make money as an artist include teaching at art schools or at university art departments. You'll need a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate to teach art in public schools, and typically a master's degree to teach in colleges. To supplement your income, you might also seek work in art galleries and museums, or by doing commissioned pieces for individual clients. While you might have to patch together numerous gigs to earn your money, you can make a living wage. Fine artists earned a mean annual wage of $50,900 as of 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2016 Salary Information for Craft and Fine Artists
Craft and fine artists earned a median annual salary of $49,250 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, craft and fine artists earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,210, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $70,210, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 53,300 people were employed in the U.S. as craft and fine artists.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Craft and Fine Artists: How to Become a Craft or Fine Artist
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design: FAQ 9: Students, Parents, Public
- Forbes: 3 Keys to Making It as an Artist (Without Starving)
- The Art Career Project: Renea Menzie Fine Art Painter
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013 27-1013 Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Craft and Fine Artists
- Career Trend: Craft and Fine Artists
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.