Fine Art

Practicing artists support themselves by teaching, selling artwork, being awarded grants and commissions, and a wide variety of other related (and non-related) professional endeavors. Growing and maintaining an active studio practice requires both training and resources— in the form of materials, equipment, space, and exhibition or performance opportunities. Many artists refine their work and begin to connect with the world of galleries, grants, and exhibitions in a graduate program (usually an MFA program). However, this is not the only path to a career as an artist.


Professional Opportunities

Artists can apply for funding from private and public sources to support their artistic practice. Specific grants support a wide variety of expenses, often including: travel, materials, equipment, services, etc. Some grants are limited to specific targets, like emerging or mid-career artists, artists in geographic regions, artists with ethnic backgrounds, etc.

Every artist should familiarize themselves with the local and national grant cycle, eligibility requirements, and the mission of each foundation or source of funding.

Most grant applications require a professional portfolio of work, an artist statement, an artist resume, and sometimes a budget and grant proposal.

An active exhibition record is very important for artists who want to sell their work, apply for grants, or pursue higher education teaching opportunities.

While commercial galleries focus on selling artwork, other art spaces are funded via grants or sponsorship and these spaces do not prioritize art sales in the same way.

Artists might seek gallery representation, propose solo or group shows, or participate in calls for art.

Many exhibition opportunities occur ‘outside’ the traditional gallery space.

Artists' residencies (also called artists' communities, colonies, retreats, workspaces, and studio collectives) provide dedicated time and space for creative work. Beyond this core value, these creative communities are a diverse group, and provide artists of all disciplines with many different styles and models of support. Residencies can be found in urban or rural areas, serving one artist at a time or 50. (Source)

Many residencies are referred to as fellowships. There is no clear distinction between the two kinds of opportunities in the world of art.

A commission refers to an arrangement in which a client ‘commissions’ the creation of a piece of art. In most cases, there is a formal contract between the buyer and the artist that spells out the details of the piece and the timeline/payment.

Non Academic Studio Programs
A wide variety of non-academic art schools/programs offer artists the opportunity to enroll in courses that vary from one week to two months.

Graduate School
Students who pursue an MFA generally plan to support themselves by teaching or selling their work — almost always both. Admission to an MFA program is based almost exclusively on portfolio.


Resources and Job Boards


Professional Organizations


Graduate School

Choosing a Program
One of the most important parts of picking a graduate program is researching what kinds of work their faculty, current students, and alumnae make. In general, you will want to find a place that supports the kind of art you want to make. You will also have to choose between a two-year program, a three-year program, and a non-residency program. There are benefits and challenges to each of these models.

Most MFA programs require a portfolio, which is often submitted digitally. In the visual arts, this portfolio is between 12 - 20 images, with restrictions on file size and length of time-based clips. This portfolio is evaluated for the presence of a significant “voice” as well as a mastery of materials (in the context of the style of the work). Most successful candidates demonstrate a mix of consistency in subject matter and approach as well as a progression of work.

Graduate applications also generally require:

  • Artist Statement
  • Statement of Intent
  • Transcript
  • Resume

Fully funded programs are usually found at state colleges/universities. They are often three year programs in which students are funded via graduate or teaching assistantships, which require around 20 hours/week of service to the department. Some of these programs provide tuition remission in addition to an hourly salary for the academic year, and students are responsible for fees, housing, and living expenses.

Most two-year programs do not offer this kind of funding, and rarely offer a guaranteed teaching opportunity. However, two year programs reduce the cost of lost employment.

Increasingly, two- and three-year MFA programs are offering fellowships for students from underrepresented backgrounds (first generation college, LGBTQ, diverse ethnic and cultural groups, etc).