Visual Arts Career Field

Visual Arts Career Field Structure

Visual Arts Careers


The visual arts can roughly be divided into four categories: commercial art, fine art, craft, and multimedia art.

Commercial art is art used by advertising, publishing, public relations, and other business enterprises to attract attention, sell products and services, illustrate concepts, convey messages, and document events. Commercial artists include illustrators, graphic designers, art directors, and photographers. Some commercial art, particularly some illustration and photography, is also considered by some to be fine art. Most commercial art combines pictorial elements with text, and artists use a variety of media to create primarily two-dimensional works that can be easily reproduced. Computers are an important tool commercial artists use to design page layouts, specify type fonts and sizes, scan photos and artwork, separate colors for printing, create illustrations, and manipulate photos. In many cases art directors develop or approve specific concepts that a commercial artist then executes for a given project.

Fine art is art created more for personal expression than financial gain. Although some fine artists are commissioned to create works for a particular place, such as a park or an office building, usually the art comes from the artist’s own ideas. The list of materials fine artists use to create their art is inexhaustible. Painters use oil, acrylic, or watercolor paints on various surfaces, such as paper, canvas, wood, and plaster. Sculptors use materials, such as clay, metal, wood, stone, papier-mâché and plastic, to build, carve, sandblast, cast, or mold three-dimensional forms. Calligraphers use ink, pencil, paper, books, wood, even gold and silver. Printmakers make prints from carved blocks, etched plates, and silk screens. Ceramic artists use clay and glazes to create sculpture, tableware, beads, tiles, or architectural decorations. Other fine artists use airbrush, pastels, charcoal, collage or mixed media, to name a few of the more traditional media.

Only a few fine artists make a living from their art. Most earn income from other occupations while making art in their free time. The most common way for fine artists to show and sell their art is through galleries. Galleries hold single-artist shows, group shows, theme shows, and competitions. They also represent specific artists and act as art brokers between artists and buyers. Artists assemble a portfolio of slides of their most representative work and present it to gallery owners and operators. The gallery operators consider the artwork’s appeal, its theme or concept, the media and technique used, the artist’s skill, and the work’s salability. When gallery operators consider representing an artist, they look at the artist’s body of work. They like to see a progression of concept or technique and to know that the artist is likely to continue producing quality work. After a work or works are accepted for exhibit, they are installed in the gallery. There is usually an opening reception, to which interested viewers, critics, and potential buyers are invited to meet and talk with the artist. The installation or exhibit may be open for public viewing for a week or several months. Fine artists also display their art in public buildings, restaurants, museums, office buildings, hotels, and on the Internet. In fact, fine artists are using the Internet more and more to make their works visible and available to a much wider audience than is possible by galleries and other exhibiting venues.

There are many other fields open to artists. Some artists, such as illustrators, straddle the line between fine art and commercial art. These artists often accept assignments, but may also produce art simply for personal expression with less commercial value. Technical artists, such as medical and scientific illustrators, usually have an extensive knowledge of their subject and produce precision drawings to illustrate important concepts. Cartoonists and comic book artists specialize in producing sequential images that convey a story. Caricaturists may work in amusement parks or public places, selling their drawings directly to the public, or they may produce caricatures of celebrities and public figures for use in news media.

The field of visual arts also includes craft, sometimes called handcraft, or arts and crafts. Craft refers to art objects that usually, but not always, have a function. Needle arts, jewelry making, basketry, wood carving, mosaic, some ceramics, and bookbinding are examples of crafts, although there is some disagreement about what is craft and what is fine art. Crafters sell their works through retail stores, fairs, catalogs, the Internet, and galleries.

A recent branch of the visual arts includes work that is primarily created using computers and other digital and electronic tools and is often meant to be reproduced or distributed through similar means. Multimedia artists create everything from animated logos for a Web site to breathtaking fantasy backgrounds for the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Some specialize in storyboards (still drawings that outline actions and scenes) and others work solely as animators, bringing cartoon characters and computer-generated heroes to vivid life for film, television, and video.