Fine artists create original and thought-provoking work, which may be aesthetically pleasing, shocking, or disruptive, through a variety of media
As a fine artist, you may specialise in a medium and concentrate on a particular subject matter. You may also focus on a type of art, for example, landscapes, portraits or abstract art. Or you may work laterally across subjects, mediums and even disciplines to explore ideas in unexpected ways and make original connections.
You could be commissioned to produce a piece of work or create your own pieces, which you'll then sell on, either directly to the public or through an intermediary such as a gallery or an agent, or you might engage in a creative research practice, contributing to knowledge via material and conceptual explorations.
Other work may include running art classes or getting involved with community art projects or schools, or applying creative problem-solving strategies in a wide range of contemporary contexts.
Types of fine art
You can work in the following ways:
- analog (drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, installation)
- digital (sound, moving image, interactive narratives)
- live (coding, mixing, performance, intervention)
- conceptual (driven by ideas, creative experiments, research questions, theories).
As a fine artist, you'll need to:
- generate and develop artistic ideas
- sketch out ideas and/or make models
- create or develop a piece of work in response to a brief or commission
- meeting deadlines
- work in a studio or off-site, adhering to health and safety procedures
- source materials and develop relationships with suppliers
- research and visit locations, interview people, use libraries and the internet
- carry out administrative tasks - including those relating to running a studio and dealing with correspondence
- plan projects and create publicity - including writing press releases
- write project proposals for galleries, competitions or artist residencies
- carry out financial planning - including creating and managing a budget, calculating expenditure and managing tax and self-employment issues
- carry out self-promotion activities - including networking and attending private viewings and other events
- apply for residencies and competitions
- write funding applications (public and private)
- liaise with contacts, gallery owners, curators and other artists
- curate individual and group shows
- negotiate a sale or commission
- maintain a portfolio which will typically include a website
- evaluate a project and feed back to the main funder or sponsor.
Salaries vary widely for fine artists and are dependent on their talent, experience and the level of intricacy used in their work. For this reason, it's difficult to put a set figure on what an artist can earn.
- For emerging artists who are displaying at degree shows, it's standard to expect no more than £1,000 for a BA-level piece of work and no more than £2,000 for MA work. This does of course vary if the piece of work is very large or extremely intricate.
- In order to place a value on your work you should consider how much experience you have, any awards or professional accomplishments you have, and high-profile partners or shows you have worked with. Look at what other comparable artists are charging for their work.
- You can expect to increase your prices with experience. The increase could vary between 10 and 20% with every major achievement, such as a sell-out show or winning an award.
For more advice on how to value your work, see Artquest.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours do not usually follow a fixed pattern and you may work at any time and for any number of hours per week.
Some fine artists need to fit their work around other commitments. However, artists assisting or working in other artists' studios may keep regular hours, such as 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
What to expect
- Fine artists usually fund their practice through a full-time or part-time job, often in the creative industries or education, for example, teaching in schools, colleges and universities.
- Working environments vary greatly and include studios or workshops, outdoor or public spaces, a physical exhibition space or online. Studios may be located in a converted industrial space such as a warehouse, loft or office building. Some artists work from studios in their own homes. It's common for artists to share studio space and to show their work from there.
- Within the UK, the majority of exhibition spaces exist within London and other major cities such as Newcastle and Manchester. However, there are vibrant and active communities of artists all over the UK and internationally.
- Although many artists find satisfaction in being their own boss, doing so carries a lot of responsibility in terms of self-promotion, business management and uncertainty of how much you'll earn.
- Fine artists exhibit all over the world, but particularly in Europe and the USA, so travel to events and galleries outside the UK is fairly common.
Some fine artists do not have professional qualifications and may have started producing their own work after discovering their talent. However, to have an increased chance of success it is useful to be formally trained and to take relevant qualifications.
The following degree subjects may be useful in developing your career as an artist:
- art and associated crafts
- art criticism
- art history
- design for performance
- fine art
- fine art critical practice
- interdisciplinary fine arts
- public art
- sound art
- visual art and communication.
Fine art can be studied in many forms including painting, new media, photography, printmaking and sculpture.
Art can be studied as part of a combined honours degree programme, usually with a humanities or another creative subject. These may include performance, history of art, arts administration, education and community studies.
As a fine art graduate, you can go on to study art and design at postgraduate level, completing an MA or MFA (Master of Fine Arts). This may result in you being able to charge more for your work, although this still largely depends on your talent and skills.
It's possible to enter a career as a fine artist without a degree. Some artists learn through a combination of short courses such as evening or weekend classes, one-week intensive courses and other qualifications such as diplomas or certificates.
You'll need to have:
- artistic talent
- determination and commitment
- the ability to come up with and develop good ideas
- good visual communication skills
- business and self-promotion skills
- technical ability
- good organisational skills and the ability to meet deadlines
- effective research skills
- the ability to work independently and with others
- communication skills
- stamina and a willingness to put in long hours.
Try to complete some relevant work experience during your degree. Work shadowing or voluntary work in a creative setting is very helpful for applying to work for others, or from a business perspective for setting up your own studio.
Try speculatively approaching local galleries and artists to see if you can offer your help to gain some experience. If finding an opportunity is gain experience in a practical artistic way is difficult, there are other ways you can gain valuable experience by working in an artistic environment. For example, you could offer to help promote artwork and events on social media or plan and coordinate events and exhibitions.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Fine artists are usually self-employed, often combining freelance work or practice with another salaried job. Common employment options include working in schools, adult education colleges, universities, studios, galleries and across the creative industries.
You'll usually sell your work independently or through a gallery. Another arrangement is to have an agent sell work on your behalf. This may achieve you more sales and wider exposure, but your agent will take commission on what they sell.
Fine art is a highly competitive field and you must be resourceful in order to create your own opportunities and seek out new and interesting places to show and sell your work. These can include artist-led spaces, bars, museums, shops, events and public spaces.
You may obtain commissions to make specific pieces of work for individuals or institutions, or you could try to secure an artist's residency. Advice and details of residencies, funding opportunities and competitions can be found from the following sources:
- a-n: The Artists Information Company
- Arts Council England
- Arts Council of Northern Ireland
- Arts Council of Wales
- Arts Culture Media Jobs
- Arts Jobs & Arts News
- Arts Professional
- British Council - Arts Group
- Crafts Council
- Creative Review
- Creative Scotland
- John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
- Writers & Artists Yearbook
Vacancies and opportunities are often not advertised at all, and you should be prepared to research and uncover opportunities for fine artists through networking and by having the confidence to approach organisations and individuals.
One way to develop professionally is to complete a postgraduate qualification, such as a Masters or postgraduate diploma. You can choose from many art subjects at this level and a number of short courses are available. It's also possible to study for various awards at BTEC level.
Seeking out new professional contacts, for example forging relationships with other artists, curators and gallery owners, is important. You'll learn through collaborating and working with others and development opportunities can arise as a result.
If you're a recent graduate you could seek work as an artist's assistant or studio assistant, which provides good training and learning opportunities. You could from here become promoted to the role of studio manager.
You can also develop by learning new artistic techniques. One way to do this is to work as a fabricator, which involves making and constructing other artists' work on their behalf.
There's no standard or structured career path for a fine artist, so career development isn't easy to predict.
Your success will be highly dependent on the level of commitment you have to your work. Exploring different opportunities and pushing your work into the public domain, either through self-promotion or the use of an agent, will be necessary. You should also try to participate in as many solo exhibitions or group shows as possible.
Within five to ten years of graduating you may have your own studio, gallery representation, regular shows and a network of important contacts. At this stage you'll hopefully have had enough success that you can work on your art on a full-time basis, possibly even employing some staff to work in your studio.
However, you may choose to adopt a portfolio style of working, where you spend some of your week working on your art, and the rest spent working in a related field, such as teaching art in schools. This can provide variety and a more secure income.
You could become an artist in residence, engaged for a time by a gallery, space, organisation or institution to make work and contribute skills and knowledge.