Online Degrees in Art and Design

Everyone knows the cliché of the starving artist; unemployed, paintbrush in hand. However, this image is not the reality of today's art & design world. Today's art & design student may aspire to careers in computer-aided drafting rather than oil painting; however, the hallmark of an artist - creativity - is still the most important requirement for success.

A successful career in the fine arts takes more than passion, however. According to The College Board, careers in the art & design field require self-starters who can work independently, sometimes honing their craft without the aid of a supervisor or clock to keep them on track. Successful artists and designers must be disciplined, driven to succeed, creative, organized, detail-oriented and often computer-savvy.

An art & design online degree program exposes students to a wide variety of disciplines within the creative world. Both traditional and online art & design degrees combine theoretical courses or art history with instruction in the applied arts, such as fashion design and graphic design.

Depending on one's area of specialization, art & design students may spend a lot of time working in the studio, experimenting with computer design programs or researching a critical period in art history. The common thread underlying these diverse applications of art & design is a focus on effective ways to communicate abstract ideas.

Popular degree programs in art and design

Studio arts are those that focus on the creation of art with various mediums, such as sketching, painting, sculpting, or creating pottery and ceramics. Technical arts focus on disciplines such as photography and digital imaging.

Art history allows students to explore the art of various regions and time periods and focuses more on research and writing rather than the creation of art.

Degree programs in design arts can include fashion design, graphic design, interior design, architecture and even video game development.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the most popular art & design degree in 2009 was general art studies, with 12,939 bachelor's degrees awarded in 2009. Other popular degree programs included studio arts with 9,231 bachelor's degrees and graphic design, with 4,756 degrees. There were 4,234 bachelor's degrees awarded for interior design and 2,176 for fashion designers.

Although art & design students may frequently be asked, "what are you going to do with that degree?" a new survey from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) found that 92 percent of art & design graduates found employment quickly after graduating, and 74 percent of those who aspired to a career as a professional artist worked as one at some point during their career.

The 2010 survey also found that 52 percent of art & design graduates worked as art teachers at, and 54 percent of students working in fields outside the arts considered their art degree relevant to their current work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60 percent of the 221,900 workers classified as artists and related workers were self-employed in 2009. The other most common job titles for artists included art directors (84,200), multimedia artists and animators (79,000), fine artists (23,600) and craft artists (13,600).

More and more students are taking advantage of the opportunity to learn online: a comprehensive 2010 report from Sloan Consortium shows an increase of almost 1 million students in online education since 2009. Furthermore, over 75 percent of higher education institutions report an increased demand for online courses since the economic downturn.

Johns Hopkins University cites flexible scheduling, wider availability of courses, easy access and improved understanding through a multi-media approach as advantages to pursuing an online degree.

Pursuing an online degree in design can offer many advantages employers often notice when comparing resumes and portfolios. Successfully taking and completing courses online requires a self-starter who has the discipline to finish courses on his or her own time--a trait many employers seek in their new hires.

Additionally, online degrees in art & design allow students to become more familiar with the computer programs that could be used in careers such as computer-aided drafting.

According to an annual salary survey by AIGA, a professional association for designers, incomes rose for most art and design professions in 2010. The highest increases were for Web designers, with a 2010 median income of $58,500, an increase of 6.4 percent over the previous ten-year period, and for owners, partners, or principals in design firms, who saw their income rise by 8.4 percent to a median of $110,000.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic designers made a mean annual salary of $47,820 in 2009. Other salaries of note included interior designers at $51,990, fashion designers at $74,410, and fine studio artists at $50,630.

At a glance:

  • 74 percent of art degree holders report working as a professional artist at some point in their careers
  • 60 percent of artists are self-employed
  • The most popular art and design program in 2009 was general art studies.
  • 90 percent of arts graduates surveyed by SNAAP said they received good or excellent training during their degree program

An online associate degree in design opens doors to a range of creative careers in the design business. Specialties include graphic design, interior design, Web design, and multimedia. Most design programs include general courses in color and composition, drawing, and visual arts, as well as applied career training in Web-based design, graphics and animation, and visual communications.

Breaking into design careers

Graduates of online associate degree programs in design usually qualify for entry-level jobs in creative communications and applied art media. They may assist in designing brand logos or packaging, Internet publications, websites, consumer products, furniture, residential and commercial interiors, and more. Career opportunities should be especially strong in Web design, as e-commerce and Internet media continues to expand.

To move up the ladder or work on your own, you'll eventually want to continue to a bachelor's degree program; college-educated Web designers enjoy a starting salary around $50,000, and command a median $88,730 with experience. Starting salaries for graphic designers average $43,758.

Online master's degrees in art and design could give you the skills and knowledge needed to seek success as a professional artist or art educator. Whereas some undergraduate degrees in this field might be general in scope, online graduate degrees typically encourage you to specialize in a particular discipline. For example, a master's in graphic design would delve into typography, branding and packaging as well as design.

What can students learn from art and design degrees online?

Coursework depends on the discipline you choose. Students seeking photography degrees learn composition, terminology, and the history and technology of photography. Illustration degrees focus on techniques of the trade, drawing strategies, concepts and composition, as well as markets for these skills, such as medical and scientific illustration. Nearly all online master's degrees in art and design contain some elements of business, such as marketing, Web promotion or branding, which is useful for the many professional artists and designers who work freelance.

Courses for art educators could include methodology, curriculum development, aesthetics, studio processes and current trends in the arts. Hybrid programs may include Web-based courses and on-campus residencies for studio experience. Computer-based study programs lend themselves to the increasing use of digital techniques in art and design.

What are the hottest online master's degrees in art and design?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, multimedia art, animation and website design should see job growth between 2008 and 2018, although the arts are a competitive field. Discover how focused online master's degrees in art & design can help you develop your talents.

Today's online art and design schools combine practical skills training with esthetic theory, art history and the latest digital technologies. When you enroll in a college or university offering online bachelor's degrees in art and design, you can expect to blend your creativity with studies in communication, marketing, software and merchandising. While potential coursework depends on the school and program, you may find subjects like these:

  • Animation
  • Fashion trends
  • Graphic arts
  • Life drawing
  • Photography
  • Web design and interactive media

Online bachelor's degrees in art and design can help you develop skills in an array of different fields. Some examples of possible specialties include these:

  • Art education
  • Entertainment set design
  • Gallery management
  • Interior design
  • Medical illustration
  • Multimedia production

You could focus even further on a specific area such as kitchen and bath design.

Art and design degrees online for wide-ranging talents

The American Institute of Graphic Arts, reporting on the U.S. Census results, found communication designers to be the largest of the disciplines within the design community. Other professionals included commercial and industrial designers, fashion designers, floral designers, graphic designers, interior designers, merchandise displayers, and set and exhibit designers. Of the 2.1 million U.S. artists that were identified, more than one-third worked in the graphics design professions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that graphic artists are found in advertising agencies, entertainment companies, Internet firms and publishing companies. Some artists work as home-based consultants and designers. The Association of Medical Illustrators says graduates in their field take jobs with hospitals and clinics, medical schools, medical publishers and research institutions. Earning online bachelor's degrees in art and design can help you further develop your talents while exploring the many paths open to you.

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