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How to Become a Craft or Fine Artist

Formal schooling is not required for craft and fine artists. However, many artists take classes or earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine arts, which can improve their skills and job prospects. 


Formal schooling is rarely required for craft and fine artists. However, it is difficult to gain adequate artistic skills without some formal education in the fine arts.

Most craft and fine artists have at least a high school diploma. High school classes, such as those in art, shop, or home economics, can teach prospective artists some of the basic skills they will need, such as drawing, woodworking, or sewing.

Many artists pursue postsecondary education and take classes or earn degrees that can improve their skills and job prospects. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts. In addition to studio art and art history, courses may also include core subjects, such as English, social science, and natural science.

Independent schools of art and design also offer postsecondary training, which can lead to a certificate in an art-related specialty or to an associate’s, bachelor's, or master’s degree in fine arts.

In 2011, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredited approximately 300 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. Most of these schools award a degree in art.

Medical illustrators must have both a demonstrated artistic ability and a detailed knowledge of living organisms, surgical and medical procedures, and human and animal anatomy. They usually need a bachelor's degree combining art and premedical courses. However, most medical illustrators also choose to get a master's degree in medical illustration. Four accredited schools offer this degree in the United States.

Education gives artists an opportunity to develop a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities. Portfolios are essential because art directors, clients, and others look at an artist’s portfolio when deciding whether to hire the individual or buy his or her work.

Those who want to teach fine arts at public elementary or secondary schools usually must have a teaching certificate in addition to a bachelor's degree. An advanced degree in fine arts or arts administration is usually necessary for management or administrative positions in government or in foundations, or for teaching in colleges and universities. For more information on workers who teach art classes, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, postsecondary teachers, and self-enrichment teachers.


Craft and fine artists improve their skills through practice and repetition. They can train in several ways other than, or in addition to, attending formal schooling.

Some craft and fine artists learn on the job from more experienced artists. Others attend non-credit classes or workshops or take private lessons, which may be offered in artists’ studios or at community colleges, art centers, galleries, museums, or other art-related institutions.

Still other craft and fine artists work closely with another artist on either a formal or informal basis. Formal arrangements may include internships or apprenticeship programs.


Artists hired by firms often start with relatively routine work. While doing this work, however, they may observe other artists and practice their own skills.

Craft and fine artists advance professionally as their work circulates and as they establish a reputation for a particular style. Many of the most successful artists continually develop new ideas, and their work often evolves over time.

Many artists do freelance work while continuing to hold a full-time job until they are established as professional artists. Others freelance part time while still in school to develop experience and to build a portfolio of published work.

Freelance artists try to develop a set of clients who regularly contract for work. Some freelance artists are widely recognized for their skill in specialties such as cartooning or children's book illustration. These artists may earn high incomes and can choose the type of work they do.

Important Qualities

Artistic ability. Craft and fine artists create artwork and other objects that are visually appealing or thought-provoking. This usually requires significant skill in one or more art forms.

Creativity. Artists must have active imaginations to develop new and original ideas for their work.

Customer-service skills. Craft and fine artists, especially those who sell their work themselves, must be good at dealing with customers and potential buyers.

Interpersonal skills. Artists often must interact with many people, including co-workers, gallery owners, and the public.

Manual dexterity. Most artists work with their hands and must be good at manipulating tools and materials to create their art.

Sales and marketing skills. Craft and fine artists must promote themselves and their art to build a reputation and to sell what they have made. They often study the market for their crafts or artwork to increase their understanding of what potential customers might want.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition