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How to Become an Art Director

Art directors need at least a bachelor’s degree in an art or design subject and previous work experience. Depending on the industry, they may have worked as graphic designers, illustrators, copyeditors, or photographers, or in another art or design occupation, before becoming art directors. 


Many art directors start out as graphic, industrial, or set designers or in another art occupation, such as fine artists or photographers. They gain the appropriate education for that occupation, usually earning a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. For more information, see the profiles for graphic designers, craft and fine artists, or photographers.

To supplement their work experience in those occupations and show their ability to take on a more creative or a more managerial role, some complete a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

Work Experience

Art directors often work for 3 to 5 years in another occupation before being selected for positions as art directors. Depending upon the industry, they may work as graphic designers, illustrators, copyeditors, photographers, or in another art or design occupation, before becoming art directors.

For many artists, including art directors, developing a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities—is essential. Managers, clients, and others look at an artist’s portfolio when they are deciding whether to hire the person or contract for his or her work.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Art directors must be able to listen to and speak with staff and clients to ensure that they understand employees’ ideas and clients’ desires for advertisements, publications, or movie sets.

Creativity. Art directors must be able to come up with interesting and innovative ideas to develop advertising campaigns, set designs, or layout options.

Leadership skills. Art directors must be able to organize, direct, and motivate other artists. They need to articulate their visions to artists and oversee their production.

Time management skills. Balancing competing priorities and multiple projects while meeting strict deadlines is critical for art directors.

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