Approximately 28,000 fine artists (including painters, sculptors, and illustrators), 12,800 artists and related workers, 12,500 craft artists, 73,700 multimedia artists, and 266,300 graphic designers are employed in the United States. Most fine artists are self-employed, and very few are able to support themselves completely by the sale of their art. They hold other jobs that allow them to pursue their artistic endeavors on a part-time basis, or they may work in art-related jobs, such as in teaching, commercial art, art therapy, or working in a gallery or art museum.
Most craft workers are also self-employed, although there are full-time positions in some fields. For example, a stained-glass artist might find a job with a small shop, or a ceramic artist might work for a pottery production factory.
Many commercial artists are self-employed, but they can more readily find full-time employment, primarily in the publishing and advertising industries. They also work in all kinds of businesses, including retail, public relations, fashion, and entertainment.
Visual artists interested in exhibiting or selling their products should first and foremost develop a portfolio, or a collection of work. The portfolio, which should be organized and showcase a wide variety of the artist's talent and capabilities, is an essential tool when looking for work.
To develop business opportunities, artists should investigate their potential markets. Reference books, such as The Artist's & Graphic Designer's Market (New York: North Light Books, 2018), may be helpful, as well as library books that offer information on business and tax law and related issues.
Local fairs and art shows often provide opportunities for new artists to display their work. Art councils are a good source of information on upcoming fairs. However, most successful artists are represented by a gallery or agent that displays their work and approaches potential buyers when new works are available. The gallery or agent gets a commission for each piece of artwork sold. Relationships between artists and gallery operators can be tricky, so legal advice is recommended, but such relationships can also be beneficial to both creator and seller. A good gallery operator encourages, supports, and believes in the artists he or she represents.
Many art schools and universities have career services offices to help graduates find jobs. Although fine artists are generally self-employed, many need to work at another job, at least initially, to support themselves while they establish a reputation.
The channels of advancement for self-employed fine artists are not as well-defined as they would be for an artist employed at a company. An artist may become increasingly well known, both nationally and internationally, and may be able to command higher prices for his or her work. The success of a fine artist depends on a variety of factors, including talent, drive, and determination. However, luck often seems to play a role in many artists' successes, and some artists do not achieve recognition until late in life, if at all. Artists with business skills may open galleries to display their own and others' work. Those with the appropriate educational backgrounds may become art teachers, agents, or critics.
Commercial artists can start out in publishing or advertising as graphic designers and with experience become art directors or account executives.
Tips for Entry
Practice your art as often as possible. Show your work at art fairs, and enter juried art competitions.
Visit the following Web sites for job listings: https://careers.arteducators.org/jobseekers and https://nceca.net/job-listings.
Join art associations. Many allow you to create a page at their Web sites where you can show your work.
Read publications such as American Craft and Sculptor to learn about new art techniques.
Network with other artists and art dealers by visiting art galleries, attending art shows, and using social media.