Art School and Career Guide for Students

Art has been around for literally millennia. You could even argue that it is as old as time itself, and as of right now, art shows no signs of ever going away. It’s understandable why art has thrived for so long and why it continues to thrive. After all, art provides people with a means of expressing their inner selves or of capturing the world as they see it.

With a stroke of a paintbrush or a click of a camera, you get to create something magical and meaningful. In other words, art keeps beauty in life alive. That is why it is no wonder then our world right now is filled with art. It is also no wonder why it’s the dream of so many people out there to pursue a career in that field. 

But when you’re an aspiring artist, trying to figure out how to pursue an art career is quite overwhelming. After all, since art has been around for a long time, it has grown quite large nowadays. And as of right now, its scope is literally so broad that it’s difficult to name every field that is under art.

So, if that’s the case, what hope is there for aspiring artists to figure out how to make a career in this field? Why don’t they just give up because it’s so overwhelming?

Please don’t give up on art just because of this. The world will never stop needing artists, so it’s important that you fulfil your dream come true. And if it’s the overwhelming nature of trying to carve a career path that scares you, then don’t worry.

This is what this post is here for. It’s here to guide you — to walk you through everything you need to know about art, art schools, and art jobs. This way, you’ll be more informed, and someday, you’ll be able to make the right decisions when it comes to pursuing a career in art. 

So, without any further ado, here are all the important things about art, school, and career that you need to know.

What “Art” Are We Talking About Here?

It’s mentioned earlier that art is a very broad field. Ever since it existed, art has developed and grown all these years, so it makes sense that it has so many other fields under it. Nowadays, there are so many things considered as art.

Architecture, animation, game design, interior design, and fashion design are some of the fields considered as art. Even literature, theatre, and music are considered as art. Long story short, with art’s popularity, it has so many branches as of right now. 

So, what are the branches of art that we’re talking about here? For the sake of this post, we’re going to focus on the visual arts, particularly painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramic art, and photography. There are other art forms under visual arts, like video, filmmaking, architecture, and the design art forms (industrial, graphics, fashion, and interior). But for the sake of making this post coherent, we won’t focus on them. Besides, these other forms of visual arts have become broad themselves that they have their own schools. 


Essentially speaking, drawing is a form of visual art in which a person makes use of various drawing instruments to mark paper or another two-dimensional medium. Some of the most common drawing instruments used are graphite pencils, pen and ink, various kinds of paints, inked brushes, charcoal, coloured pencils, crayons, chalk, and pastels. 

Drawing is perhaps one of the oldest — if not, the oldest — forms of human expression via the visual arts. It is generally concerned with the making of lines and areas of tone onto paper or other material. In other words, drawing involves using the fundamental elements of visual arts to accurately represent the visual world. As a result, drawing is an important art form for artists. No matter what field they specialize in, it is recommended for artists to master drawing first and foremost. 


Painting is an art form that involves the application of paint, pigment, colour, or another medium to a solid surface. Some of the most commonly used media include oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolour, ink, enamel, and more. The chosen medium is then usually applied to the base with a brush, but sometimes, other implements like knives, sponges, or airbrushes can be used. 

As an art form of visual arts, painting brings in elements from so many fields, particularly drawing, gesture, composition, narration (for narrative art), and abstraction (for abstract art). Additionally, painting has a wide array of styles: painters can choose to make their artworks naturalistic and representational, or they can opt for it to be photographic, abstract, narrative, symbolistic, emotive, or political.


As the name suggests, printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper. These artworks, aptly called prints, are created by transferring ink from a matrix or through a prepared screen to a sheet of paper or other material. Some of the common types of matrices are metal plates (usually copper or zinc), polymer plates (for engraving or etching), stone, aluminum, blocks of wood, and linoleum. 


Sculpture is an art form of visual arts that operates in three dimensions. In its beginning stages, sculptors originally used carving (the removing of material) and modelling (the addition of material, like clay) in materials such as stone, metal, ceramics, wood, and others. However, since the rise of the Modernism movement, there has been almost complete freedom of materials and processes. 

One of the primary purposes of sculpture is in some form of association with religion. In various cultures all over the world, particularly the ones in ancient Greece and Egypt, people made sculptures of their gods to show their devotion. But aside from that, other subject matters that are incorporated in sculptures are rulers, animals, and enlarged versions of ordinary tools. 

Ceramic Art

Another art form that operates in three dimensions, ceramic art is an art made from ceramic materials, such as earthenware, porcelain, and brick, and clay. The products of ceramic art usually come in many forms, some of the most common including tableware, tiles, figurines, and even sculpture. Some of the primary elements involved in ceramic art include the shape of the object, the decorating by painting, carving and other methods, and the glazing found on most ceramics.

A lot of people may consider ceramics as a form of fine art, and though that’s partly true, some ceramics are also considered to be decorative, industrial, or applied art objects. Additionally, ceramics may even be also considered as artifacts in archaeology. 


Photography, in its broadest sense, is the art, application, and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either through the use of an image sensor or the use of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film. 

Meanwhile, fine-art photography is a particular kind of photography that is created in accordance with the vision of the artist as a photographer. In this particular form, photography is used as a medium to bring to life something that lives in the artist’s mind. In other words, fine-art photography aims to express an idea, a message, or an emotion through photos. 

With this, fine-art photography is usually considered as a contrast to other forms of photography such as commercial photography, which focuses on the advertising of products or services, and representational photography. Representational photography often takes in the form of photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events. It literally represents the objective reality, unlike fine-art photography represents the subjective intent of the photographer. 

Related article: How Much Does Art Class Cost in Toronto?

Before School: Creating Your Art Portfolio

Once you’ve discovered what kind of art you’re good at, you’re probably now excited to find a great school. But before you get too eager, there’s one thing you should know first about applying to art schools. And that is the fact that all art schools will require you to submit to them an art portfolio. 

Simply put, an art portfolio is simply an edited collection of an artist’s best artworks. The primary goal for this portfolio is to show to the art school administrators your own style as an artist, as well as your creativity and method of work. Additionally, the portfolio is also meant to show them your strengths and weaknesses, your potential, and your growth. In other words, your acceptance to an art school will heavily depend on your portfolio. And that is why it’s highly important for you to take this seriously. 

To help you in this process of creating an art portfolio, here is a rundown of the best tips you can use:

Start Building Your Art Portfolio As Early As You Can

Making an art portfolio doesn’t happen overnight. If you really want to make it the best it possibly can, then you also need to start thinking about it early. So, start thinking of what art forms you enjoy making. And even better, start asking advice from your art teachers or anyone you know who is a working artist or who has attended an art school. The earlier you learn, the better. 

Do Your Research on Programs and Art Schools That You Like

In your early stage of creating a portfolio, one thing you should do is to do your research on possible programs and art schools. Of course, you’re not applying to them now. But it’s really an excellent idea to start narrowing down your list of art schools you want to go to. 

Once you have a working list, start looking them up and reading all about their programs. Read the criteria for application numerous times so as to make sure that you won’t get them wrong in the future. Additionally, if you can, delve also into their alumnae and faculty list and observe their artworks. This is because looking at their artworks will give you a feel of the school. And sometimes, you might not like the vibe that a particular school is giving you. If that’s the case, better you know it early on. 

Create Original Artwork for Your Portfolio

Originality is a big deal in the art world, so you better showcase that in your portfolio. What this means is: avoid fan art and celebrity portraits. Instead, put in artworks that are borne out of your inventive thinking. Those are always way more interesting.

Be a Little Experimental

Art schools may prefer to look at the technical aspects of your art. But that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate it if you put in something that is completely unexpected.

So, try experimenting with some of your projects. Try creating in other media or style or art form. You don’t have to eventually put them on the portfolio if you end up not liking them. But try anyway. It will make for a fun experience, plus you’re bound to learn something that will help you grow as an artist.

Your Artworks Should Show Your Strengths

This one should be a no-brainer. Of course, the artworks you’re going to include will show your strengths. It’s even better if you can showcase a variety of them. What this means is that in addition to artworks showing your strengths, you should also put artworks that are diverse in terms of approach, media, and content. That will show your range and versatility as an artist. And those two things are always impressive to art school administrators. 

Consider Adding Unfinished Artworks

This one is actually not necessary. In fact, sometimes, it’s not even recommended. However, that said, some art schools will allow you putting in unfinished artworks. And if that’s the case, then you should grab that opportunity and include one or two unfinished artworks of yours. 

Why is this a good idea? This is a good idea because unfinished artworks will display your thinking process as an artist. And for some art schools, they are interested in seeing your process. They believe that it will let them see what kind of artist you are. So, consider putting in unfinished artworks — if and only if the art school allows it. 

Properly Document Your Artworks

Of course, the artworks you’re going to put in won’t be the original copies. After all, you’re going to want to keep the originals to yourself and you’re going to be applying for numerous art schools. In that case, you’re going to have to reproduce your artworks. There is no wrong way to do this. But the most common choice of reproduction is through photography. Other choices include photocopying and scanning.

Whatever choice you make, just make sure that the quality of the copies is high. The last thing you’ll want is to jeopardize your chances of getting into an art school because the copies are blurry. 

Properly Curate Your Portfolio

Your art portfolio is kind of like an essay. In order for you to successfully disseminate the ideas that you’re showcasing, it has to be concise and well-arranged. So, start thinking of how you want to arrange the artworks. You can go for a chronological order or arrange them based on style or approach. Think of what you want to say with your portfolio, and you can start arranging them based on that.

If you’re still confused, just ask feedback from other people. That should help you.

Attend National Portfolio Day

Remember when we suggested asking feedback from other people? You can do that during National Portfolio Day.

National Portfolio Day is essentially just an event where aspiring artists get the chance to meet with representatives from art schools all over the country. These representatives will then review their portfolios. That said, you should really take advantage of this opportunity. You will get a first glimpse of how art schools will react to your portfolio. And you’ll also get feedback on the things you need to improve during art events. It’s a win-win situation.

During School: Getting an Art Education

So, now you’ve created your portfolio. It’s time to send it out for application. But first, have you actually decided on what program you want to pick?

In our time right now, there are multiple programs out there for art education. Of course, the most obvious pick is the bachelor’s degree, which takes up four years of study. But if you’re a little hesitant on taking that commitment, you can first opt for a certificate program or an associate’s degree. They take up only one year and two years of study, respectively, and you can transfer to a bachelor’s if you want. You can even opt to take up a master’s degree and a doctorate after your bachelor’s if you are so passionate to learn more about art. 

Basically, there are a lot of ways to get educated about art. You just have to choose which one fits your needs right now. And, of course, you have to attend the classes to learn.

On-Campus Art School

When we talk of an “art” school, the first thing that we’ll think of is the on-campus kind. Generally speaking, the on-campus kind of art school is the typical university or college setting. This setting has all the classrooms, libraries, and practical rooms you can go to. 

The most obvious advantage that an on-campus art school offers is the fact that your education will be more experiential and active. You’re inside a classroom with your classmates and a teacher, so there’s a communication happening during the lessons. Additionally, when you have to do practical exercises, the teacher will supervise the whole thing, and if you’re doing something wrong, they can easily correct it. Aside from that, you’ll also have access to art materials and tools.

Sure, you have to provide for yourself one day, but it’s still great to know that your school will provide for you for now. This way, you’ll get to see which materials and tools you like best and which ones you don’t. 

In other words, an on-campus art school offers a hands-on, active, and experiential kind education. As a result, if you want to pursue an education in art, it’s recommended to choose this kind of school.

Online Art School

However, even though on-campus art schools are great, not everyone is lucky enough to go there. And if this is the case, then aspiring artists should consider studying art online instead. Here are some reasons as to why online art schools are a great choice as well:

Time Flexibility

The biggest benefit of online art schools is flexibility in terms of time. Sure, just like any other school, you will also have deadlines to remember. But beyond that, your schedule is up to you. You get to learn anywhere, anytime — just make sure you have a stable Internet connection. 

You’ll Learn at Your Own Pace

Speaking of flexibility, you’ll also get to learn at your own pace with online art schools. We all know that in traditional schools, we’re always pressured to catch up with the lessons because there is a fixed schedule. This can be a problem because not everyone learns fast. Some people need more time to let lessons sink in. 

Thankfully, with online schools, that problem is taken care of. Now, you can download the lectures, either in written or video format, and then read or watch them for as many times as you like. That way, you’ll grasp the lessons better, which makes for a better experience. 

Easy Interaction with Classmates and Teachers

An online school will also make the interaction between your classmates and teachers easy. Understandably, it’s different from the kind of interaction you’ll get in on-campus schools. But interacting online is also beneficial in its own way. If you need to communicate with your classmates or teachers about something ASAP, all you have to do is to message or video-call them. 

Basically, with online art schools, reaching to your peers and teachers can be done easily. You don’t have to wait for the next day to speak to them face-to-face because you can contact them with just one click on your phone or computer. 

The One Disadvantage: No Access to Necessary Materials and Tools

Online art schools are undoubtedly a great alternative for art education. However, it does have one major disadvantage. And that is the lack of access to necessary art materials and tools. 

It’s true that eventually when you get a job, you’ll have to provide these art materials and tools for yourself. But at least, when you’re still at school, on-campus art schools will give you access to the necessary materials and tools.

However, this is not the case with online art schools. With an online school, you have to figure out for yourself how you’re going to compensate for it. This might mean buying the materials and tools for yourself or borrowing someone else’s. Either way, it’s going to be extra work and possibly extra expensive. And you need to prepare for that. 

Related article: Top 10 Best Art Schools in Canada

After School: Working as An Artist

Since art is such a broad field, its job prospects are also greatly broad. What this means is that for artists, there’s no one job tailored for you. You can find a job in practically any industry out there. For example, if you’re skilled at drawing, you might have a good shot in animation. You may even find yourself working in the publishing industry as an illustrator. Or you can become a teacher for arts in school. Or a museum curator, an art consultant, an art director — anything! If you’re an artist, the sky is your limit when it comes to your career prospects. 

Artist Salaries

Because of the broad nature of the jobs for artists, it’s quite difficult to determine how much they’re getting paid. After all, there are a lot of factors that affect the possible salaries of artists. The following are the most common ones:

    • Your company or employer: Are you working for a reputable, well-known company? Or are you working for a startup and a small one? The prominence of the company you work for can influence the salary you’ll get. 
    • Your job experience: How long have you been working as an artist? If you’re just new, you’re probably going to get paid low. But if you’ve been in this industry for years now, then you might get better pay. 
    • Your education level: If you’ve studied college in art school, you’re more likely to get a better salary. 
    • Your geographical location: Cities usually have a high-cost living, and so, the companies there will also give out bigger salaries. However, if you’re working in a rural area, then that might not be the case. 
    • The length of your position: Artists can choose to work under a contract, or under a long-term/permanent basis. If it’s the former, then your salary is going to be fixed. But if it is the latter, then you’re more likely going to see your salary grow.

Now that we’ve established the factors that come into play when we’re talking about artist salaries, let’s now talk about the possible salaries you’ll get. Obviously, these salaries won’t be exact since there are a lot of jobs for artists out there. The following are only a few examples of possible salaries that artists can get in a particular job. 


Estimated Annual Salary



Illustrator/Technical Illustrator


Art Teacher


Art Director


Creative Director


Retoucher (Photography)



Art has been thriving for literally thousands of years. And it will continue to thrive for a thousand more. That is why it’s no wonder that so many people nowadays are dreaming to pursue a career in art someday. And this should be encouraged because the world will not be the same without art. In other words, the world will always be in need of artists. 

But aspiring artists might find it overwhelming when they’re just trying to figure out how to carve a path for themselves. After all, there are so many things to consider, so many questions to answer. In the end, you’ll probably just going to have a headache. 

That is why this post exists. This post aims to guide you on this journey of carving a path for your artistic career. So read through this post carefully, and apply the tips in your own decision-making. And one of these days, you’ll find yourself as one of the beloved artists of our generation.

Related article: How Does Technology Help Contemporary Artists with Their Art?