Rego: Art majors aren’t guaranteed a career

Shay Rego

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

Many people often fall into the misconception that taking on a viable career as a full-blown art major is fun and somewhat easier than other choices. Art covers a broad spectrum, ranging from drawing to digital design to film producing. It goes above and beyond the canvas, but still all fields hold competitive grounds. While turning this passion into a career may seem like a good idea, it should not always be something to spend money on for a degree or use as a primary source of income. It is incredibly difficult to make a high-level living arrangement for oneself by being an artist in a competitive field where there are already so many existing artists and future competitors.

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Having a career in the arts may not steady enough for years down the road. It’s very comparable to being a writer; a lot of people aspire to publish great works, but not enough can be produced to pay the bills. As an art teacher, the median salary is $55,000. The craft artist makes an average salary of $30,000 and multimedia artists make $60,000 all according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. A photographer makes an average salary of $31,000 a year, a successful novelist still only makes an average of $65,000 a year and a digital designer averages at $40,000. Of course, a blockbuster film producer averages at $111,000 a year, but the years and rigor spent leading up to that point could only dig a hole of debt. Out of 2 million art graduates in the nation, only about 10 percent actually earn their living primarily through the arts. 40 percent of working artists did not even graduate from college in 2016. Therefore, all that money on a professional degree in arts could be considered wasted.

The opposing argument here for art majors is that there does seem to be a lot of different career choices with a fine arts degree: printmaker, museum/gallery curator, exhibition designer, illustrator, teacher, professional photographer, novelist, music producer, digital designer, producer and lastly being a well-renowned fine artist. Taking a career working in a gallery or being a teacher is a steady career choice with guaranteed income, and therefore a perfect way to utilize a fine arts degree. The extremely talented could also sell their works to local shops, have exhibits in local galleries, enter contests and even get a few commission pieces here and there. Sure, it works out great for the while.

I give credit to anyone chasing their zeal for art and trying to make it into a career, but unless they earn a major breakthrough by creating some fantastic piece, it is unlikely that their career is going to bring in big bucks. That is a large gamble and could take years. Don’t get me wrong, of course I understand happiness in a low paying job is much better than boredom in a high paying job, but this career path may actually be paying so little, plus a hard time finding a job in this field, that the stress may not even be worth an actual degree.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the required household median in order to live in the middle class ranges from $50,000 to $75,000 depending on the state of residency. This median salary will also directly correlate to pay depending on which state. For instance, someone working in Colorado needs around $58,000 to live comfortably in this state. Being an art teacher who only makes around $55,000 a year is going to be scraping by on basic living expenses, not to mention paying off student loans for that art degree, and then there is no money left over to save for luxuries, emergencies or retirement.

What a lot of people seem to misinterpret here is that one needs an art degree to work in an art field. That is most certainly not the case. In fact, not going to college for art may be the smarter route. Not only is money being saved by not going for a degree, but it is also more free time one can dedicate to enhancing portfolios and going for internships. While not going to college for any form of art may be an advantage, it could also be a disadvantage. Depending on the place of work, some employers may just prefer someone with a degree. It is a complete personal choice, and either choice reaps its own benefits, but overall it is absolutely not necessary to pay for a degree to be successful in this field.

It’s a competitive field for everyone wants to be an artist. Unfortunately, the chances of making a comfortable career out of it is slimmer than most. If one still has a strong desire to work in the creative field, my only suggestion is to simply not major in it and save every penny possible. My opinion is only stated to shed light on the practicality of this career path. In the end, people should do what makes them happy. Nothing is impossible.

Shay Rego can be reached at letters@collegian.com and online on Twitter at @shay_rego