Fine Arts Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a fine arts degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree as well as potential careers.
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Fine Arts Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info at a Glance

A fine arts degree program can be as broad or as focused as you want it to be. These programs can offer you a well-rounded education in the fine arts while encouraging you to specialize in one aspect of the visual or performing arts. Depending on the program, areas of specialization may include painting, sculpture, ceramics, acting, musical theatre, creative writing, dance, and metalworking, among others. Graduating with a fine arts degree may open the door for possible careers in teaching, art consultation, gallery representation, studio photography, advertising, stage management, or other fine arts related fields.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2011, the median salary for fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators was $45,000. However, employment was expected to grow only 3% to 9% through 2020; the job outlook is about the same for actors and dancers. The employment situation is little better for musicians, singers, photographers because these jobs are expected to grow by 10% to 19%, which is within the average rate for all jobs.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in art, music, theatre or dance Students who want to become art teachers, and those who want more in-in-depth training in art, music, theatre or dance
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators ($45,000)*
- Photographers ($29,000)*
- Musicians and singers (N/A)*
- Set and exhibit designers ($48,500)*
- Music composers and arrangers ($47,000)*
- Museum curators ($48,500)*
- Museum technicians, and conservators ($38,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - May need to pass review of final art project - Successful completion of several art projects related to degree
- Successful review of final art project
- Public show, including samples of your work
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED; may need to demonstrate artistic ability by submitting a project for review
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degree in Fine Arts

An associate's degree may be a good choice for you if you want to get a college degree, but don't want to commit to a four-year degree program. This 2-year degree may also provide an opportunity for you to find out if the art field you're interested in is right for you. Associate's degrees in fine arts are typically offered in music, theater, or visual arts.

Pros and Cons


  • This degree may be a good way to get a foundation in the arts in a relatively short amount of time.
  • Because some jobs in the arts may rely more on talent than education, an associate's degree may be all the formal education you need to get your dream job.
  • An associate's degree may be a good way to test the waters to get an idea of whether an art career is right for you.


  • According to the BLS, many employers may prefer applicants to have a bachelor's degree or higher.*
  • Competition for jobs in the fine arts is intense and pay for entry-level jobs is usually low.*
  • Fine arts degree programs usually require art projects that may require a lot of time, outside of class, to complete.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

An associate's degree in music may require classes in music theory, music literature, and singing. Examples of common classes for students of music, theater and the visual arts are:

  • Music: music appreciation, music literature, music theory, and vocal training
  • Acting: history of film, performance and stagecraft
  • Visual arts: art history, design, drawing, painting and photography

Online Degree Options

Fine arts associate's degree programs are available from accredited schools, but the degrees offered are likely to be in the visual arts - like photography, drawing, painting, sculpture and printmaking - rather than the performing arts, like acting and dance. You will learn the fundamentals of your fine arts subject and will be given assistance in developing your individual artistic voice. Many programs also teach students how to market your work using the portfolio you develop during your degree program.

Stand Out with this Degree

You should consider your fine arts school projects as opportunities to show prospective employees your talent, so take them seriously and plan them carefully. Furthermore, try to find volunteer work in art studios, museums, theaters, and other arts-related areas to gain relevant real-world experience. Many schools offer credit for internships, even if that option is not explicitly put forth on your major's flow sheet.

Bachelor's in Fine Arts

If you are interested in receiving a broad education in the fine arts while receiving professional training in one or two of them, you may want to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. You will come to understand the arts as a profession, and learn about the business side, as well as issues and ethics that affect you as a working artist. You will also have the opportunity to create and complete projects for display, performance, or print in your chosen artistic field.

Pros and Cons


  • You will have an opportunity to pursue your passion and develop your talent.
  • As an industry insider, you may have opportunities to receive art-related discounts.
  • Programs help you develop life-long skills like creative and critical thinking.


  • The admissions process for these degree programs can be very tough because you may be required to produce an art project for review prior to admission.
  • Artists may end up exposed to hazardous conditions, like painters are to fumes.*
  • You may face strong competition for low paying, entry-level jobs.*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

You may need to submit a portfolio and get a favorable review before you can be admitted into a Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Some schools may also monitor the work of students during their first year. The classes you may take in a Bachelor of Fine Arts program will vary according to your particular specialization. Possible classes include:

  • Basic design
  • Drawing
  • Aesthetics
  • Art history
  • Introduction to film
  • Dramatic analysis
  • Acting

Online Degree Options

Online Bachelor of Fine Arts degree programs are comparable to on-campus versions for disciplines like art history, design, photography, drawing, and other non-performance arts. Some students may feel more comfortable learning - in-person - techniques that require hands-on practice. Prior to enrolling, consider whether you are a self-directed learner or one who prefers more direct guidance.

Stand Out with this Degree

Use your portfolio to try to get work in areas related to your degree. If you are a theatre major, you may want to get in involved with your local theatres. You may be able to begin volunteering as an usher and then eventually get involved in other areas of the theater. If you are a fine artist, consider volunteer work in museums or offer to assist local artists and art studios. Whatever your fine arts focus, find a related local business or artist to work for. According to BLS, most employers are looking for tech savvy employees, so you may also want to create a website to showcase your work.

Degree Alternative

Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design

If you are interested in combining digital imaging, computer graphics and production skills into a career, studying graphic design may be a good option for you. These 4-year - Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science - programs prepare you for careers as computer artists, graphic designers, creative directors, advertising professionals, and production specialists. Programs include training in drawing, designing graphics for the Internet, marketing, e-publishing, computer illustration, and writing for various mediums.

Despite the fact that the employment outlook shows only an average gain in open positions - 13% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS - the large number of jobs that already exist in the field mean that there will be more open positions in this field than in a one that has an above average outlook, but small numbers of people actually employed. The BLS forecast shows an expected 37,300 additional graphic design jobs in 2020 to the number that existed in 2010. The median annual salary of these professionals in 2010 was $43,500.

Another career path that can grow out of a bachelor's degree in the art and graphic design fields is that of an art director. According to the BLS, these professionals are generally gain work-experience in the arts field for a number of years prior to transitioning into a post as an art director. As the name implies, these professionals manage and direct a creative team to create a cohesive artistic style. According to the BLS reports, in 2010, these professionals took home an annual median wage of $80,630. The BLS 2010-2020 trend report showed an expected 9% increase in jobs, which translates to an additional 6,700 posts.

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