Leslie W. Price
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Theatre director, writer, and arts educator.
  • According to multiple salary estimator sites, the highest paying art job is creative director, with an average annual salary of $96,300.
  • Salary ranges vary a lot based on geography and organization, so some artistic roles have the potential to make more than $100,000 per year in certain situations.
  • Creative directors can make an annual salary of $96,300 annually, while a curator's annual salary is a wide range: $32,000-$130,000.

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Art is everywhere.  Although people who pursue careers in creative fields are sometimes ridiculed for choosing a path that's possibly less lucrative than others, the truth is that there are plenty of options for folks with a passion for art. 

Finding the right job can be somewhat tricky no matter what your career goals are, but artists are already good at creativity. If you put a little bit of that creativity toward your job search, you're likely to find a career that delights your artistic side and your bank account.

What are the best jobs for artists?

1. Fine artist.

Fine artists include illustrators, sculptors and painters. They typically display and sell their art through art galleries. They also work on commission if a client is in need of something specific. While the freelance nature of working as a fine artist isn't for everyone, the benefits of working on your own time and making art that excites you is enticing. Plus, fine artists can make a decent salary with a little bit of hustle. Recruiter.com lists the pay range for fine artists as $40,000-$60,000 annually.

2. Performer.

Performers include actors, singers, dancers, musicians and stand-up comedians. While some professional performing artists choose to pursue their work on stage as a secondary source of income, it's possible to build a career that allows you to make most of your income through performing. Glassdoor notes that the average salary for a performing artist is $45,371 a year. 

3. Arts administrator.

Arts organizations are built with a combination of practicing artists and thoughtful arts administrators who know how to support them. These talented administrators are generally artists in their own right who have additional training in managing budgets, people and creative organizations. While folks can become arts administrators at any point in their careers, they usually have a fair amount of firsthand experience creating work before they set out to head all or part of an organization. Zip Recruiter notes that arts administrators make approximately $49,518 per year.

4. Curator.

A curator gathers art and artifacts for display. They also take care to make sure those items are properly attributed and cared for.  Curators often work at museums, but they also work at art galleries to put together exhibitions featuring specific artists or themes. Glassdoor's estimate for a curator's annual salary is a wide range: $32,000-$130,000. This is due in part because the budgets of smaller galleries or museums can't sustain as much as large, established, government-funded organizations.

5. Graphic designer.

Posters, social media collateral, logos, brochures, photo editing and more are part of the job of a graphic designer. Some professionals work full time at an office. Since a graphic designer generally needs only a laptop or tablet to do the job, other designers are able to create a work-from-home (or work from anywhere) situation for themselves. Still others combine full-time work and side hustles to generate even more income. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent estimate for the average salary of a graphic designer is $50,370 as of 2018. 

6. Interior designer.

Interior designers combine their love of materials, layout and creativity with particularly good project management skills. Not only do they help businesses and homeowners create beautiful, functional, appealing environments, but interior designers are also master collaborators who understand how to bring ideas and execution together. This job involves art, project management and a little bit of math, so it's great for folks who are good at both hard and soft skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for an interior designer in 2018 was $53,370. 

7. Creative director.

A creative director brings together designers, marketing pros, writers and salespeople to help facilitate a creative process. Usually, this involves selling products or services.  While a creative director tends to have plenty of artistic skills, they're also fairly business-minded since they have a large role in making a business profitable. This job has lots of responsibilities, and the compensation reflects that with an annual salary of $96,300 according to PayScale.com.

8. Teacher/professor.

Almost every practicing artist ends up doing some teaching at some point in their careers. This could be a full-time job or an occasional gig depending on your skill level and interest. The requirements for being hired also vary widely depending on where you're working. Someone teaching a weekly acting class might make $20-$100 per hour depending on your experience level and location. A full-time public school teacher can expect to make as much as $55,000-$99,000 according to Salary.com.

9. Stylist.

Styling is a great job for someone who understands how to put together clothing and accessories. Part artist and part therapist, a stylist listens to their clients and helps them find pieces that allow them to express themselves and feel their best. Glassdoor reports that stylists make about $32,806 per year.

10. Composer.

Music is a mainstay in all cultures, and people who can make music are in high demand. From creating scores for movies to writing jingles for national commercials, composers have a wide variety of opportunities to choose from. ZipRecruiter notes that the salary range for composers in the U.S. is quite wide, but the average annual pay is $51,642 per year.

11. Writer.

Another great career for artists that you can tailor to your needs and interests, writers can find work doing everything from creating content for social media to in-depth journalism. Like a lot of careers in the arts, writers need to have a bit of hustle to make a decent living, but it's doable with some hard work and plenty of connections. PayScale.com reports that the average salary is $49,533 annually.

12. Web designer.

For those who are both artistically and technically inclined, a career as a web designer might be a good fit. Web designers consider how a website should look as well as how it should function. They create sites that are appealing to look at and intuitive to use. A career in web design also has the potential to be fairly lucrative, with an average annual salary of $69,430 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

13. Video and film editor.

Film director Martin Scorsese has a decades-long relationship with his film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. She helps him put together the pieces of the film he's created and fully realize the story in a way that's exciting for the artists who made it and for the audiences who will see it. While not every video or film editor will get to work on high-profile projects, they still have the challenge and thrill of assembling film into something compelling. That might be with the goal of a film or a television show or it might be for an advertisement. With any career, getting into the niche you most want involves lots of networking and hard work. The average salary for a video or film editor is $47,644 according to PayScale.com.

14. Fashion designer.

Most folks think of fashion designers as the people who create outrageous looks for the Met Gala or awards shows, but they also design everyday staples like jeans, tee-shirts and swimsuits. There's interest not only in compelling designs but also in sustainability, which makes this a great career path for someone who wants to make great-looking fashion that does great things for the planet. According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a fashion designer is $67,027.

15. Architect.

Combining math, material science and design, architects create everything from humble homes to massive skyscrapers. Lots of education is required to reach this goal, but architecture is a profitable career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that architects earn an average annual salary of $79,380.

16. Animator.

Animation isn't only for kids. Grownups help bring those characters to life through a variety of techniques, from old school pen and ink to highly sophisticated motion capture technology. This job might require some knowledge of innovative trends and technology, and it will most definitely require a bit of knowledge about filmmaking and storytelling. Animators earn about $72,520 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

17. Textile designer.

Ever wonder who creates the stripes, flowers or conversation prints on your clothes and curtains? That would be a textile designer. They understand the fabrics and fibers they're working with as well as how to create designs that range from fun to classic to edgy.  A textile designer makes approximately $54,135 each year according to ZipRecruiter. 

What is the highest paying art job?

According to multiple salary estimator sites, the highest paying art job is creative director, with an average annual salary of $96,300. It's important to note that salary ranges vary a lot based on geography and organization, so some of the other roles in this article have the potential to make more than $100,000 per year in certain situations. As with many jobs, the pay is often a reflection of the amount of experience you have and the amount of responsibility you're going to have in the role you're accepting.

Whether you're going after a six-figure job or a worthwhile side hustle, you have plenty of options to get your creative juices flowing and make money at the same time. 

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Leslie W. Price is a theatre artist, educator, and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on LinkedIn or visit her portfolio