We Answer: Can you get a fine arts degree online?
Online degrees are growing in popularity and prestige across the world as students, universities, and employers are recognizing the advantages of online education (in particular, affordability and flexibility). Most of these students are earning degrees in the usual high-paying, ROI-proof areas like Business, Healthcare, and Information Technology, among others. Which, of course, adds up: if online education’s biggest boon is pragmatism, at a time when the traditional college model is under attack for the opposite, online students are more likely to be interested in surefire degrees. But what about the less “traditional” or “practical” degrees? Say, a bachelor in Fine Arts? Is an online degree in art just as legitimate as an online degree in Business Administration?
That’s perhaps an unfair and/or misleading question, but let’s explore.
First, the pros. And not to beat a dead horse but — flexibility. More than anything, an artist needs time, and a flexible, ideally asynchronous online track allows the art student freedom to complete course work on their own time, which in turn opens up time to build your portfolio. (Which is really the reason you major in art in the first place.) Many programs also make use of learning platforms like Blackboard and Moodle, which give students the opportunity to share their work with classmates and instructors, communicate via chat rooms and discussion boards, and generally simulate the collaborative, intimate environment of a traditional, on-campus degree. Plus, for the archetypal starving artist, the benefit of affordability is significant, especially when students at some of the top art schools in the country have to shell out $35,000+ per year. In fact, a Washington Post piece found that art schools are among the most expensive in the country. Granted these schools generally have generous financial aid, but cost-of-living alone can be prohibitive in some cases.
Of course, nothing can totally replace the in-class student experience, particularly with the arts. Where the fundamentals of disciplines like business, communications, and IT don’t require any unique delivery method — and might even make more sense in an online environment – by its nature, art is an intimate, hands-on creative activity. Further, most aspiring artists benefit from one-on-one instruction and mentorship, which is difficult to replicate from a distance, despite our proliferation of social tools. No doubt this is one of the reasons why online art degrees have been slower to gain traction and recognition than other distance education tracks. Perhaps even more challenging is the issue of structure, or lack thereof: with an online degree in fine arts, you’re taking an already loosely organized degree and breaking it down even further. Students must be exceptionally motivated, disciplined, and fastidious, which isn’t necessarily the calling card of every artist, particularly when the creative well threatens to go dry. If you’re not completely comfortable with solitary work and study with limited supervision, the traditional route may be preferable.
Barring patronage, you’ll probably need a day job upon graduation. Some ideas…
Among the most popular job sectors for art majors, design can be the best of both worlds: creatively fulfilling and well-paying. Top positions like creative director come with six-figure salaries, plus the potential for excellent exposure. Admittedly, “design” is an incredibly broad field, covering graphic design, photography, film & TV, advertising, marketing, etc., but that also means versatility and diversity. Nor do these positions require any kind of specific curricular background in the way that executive roles in business prefer MBA candidates, and, insofar as it’s possible, design is a relatively meritocratic world; the more your portfolio/previous work stands out, the more your chances of success increase. (Of course, as with anything, there are strains of nepotism, but still….) Design is also filled with freelance opportunities for those looking and willing to work on a contract basis, which makes up for a lack of stability with financial independence, creative freedom, and a healthy work-life balance.
If you make art, why not teach it? Your pay won’t be much, but you’re not getting a fine arts degree for the pay anyway. Teaching will also allow you maximum professional autonomy – you are, in effect, the boss – and a predictable, clean schedule to work on side projects, whereas a more corporate job can be demanding and freelancing is on-again-off-again. Teaching is also a continuing education opportunity in its own right; by engaging, critiquing, and advising students and their work, teachers can continue honing their craft and thinking seriously about what makes art ‘work.’ Nor do you have to be teaching highly-skilled students: recall that many of Picasso’s most famous works were influenced by cave art, and he himself loved to line draw.
There are plenty of options in the commercial art world, as well. Curation is a highly sought-after and prestigious job, typically requiring graduate work, but administrative and assistant roles offer excellent real-world experience and room to advance. (These jobs can be found both in museum’s and private galleries.) Alternatively, art school graduates may work as art sales agents, associates, or representatives, which, again, is can be a competitive field but also potentially lucrative; certainly having an in-depth knowledge of artistic technique and taste are essential, and being able to speak intelligently about a work will put you at an advantage. Finally, an overlooked but apt landing spot could be insurance, which has grown in recent years as the art market has become more complicated. Art insurance brokers work on behalf of individual clients to appraise pieces and create claims – another job art majors are uniquely qualified for.
While online tracks remain slim, there are a few fine arts degrees available, plus several certificate options.
The Academy of Art University has one of the most extensive list of offerings, with a BFA, MA, MFA, and associate degree, accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASD). The bachelor’s offers non-figurative and figurative painting, drawing, printmaking, and jewelry design, with a separate center for sculpture artists, as well; the MFA program concentrates on painting, printmaking, or sculpture, with an emphasis on technical and conceptual development. Similarly, the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design offers online BFA concentrations in seven areas, including Illustration, Graphic Design, and Graphic Design.
The largest, most prestigious program is at the Savannah College of Art and Design, which offers a wide variety of online tracks (25 in total), including bachelors in Sequential Art, Graphic Design, Interactive Design and Game Development and Photography; and masters (MA and MFAs) in Painting, Illustration, Animation, and Preservation Design, among others. All courses are asynchronous, and students can assess and critique peers’ work through discussion boards and live feeds. The best news? Ninety-eight percent of SCAD graduates report being employed, pursuing further education, or both within 10 months, and online alumni currently work at places like NBCSports, Walt Disney World, Susan G. Komen, and ESPN.
A few other options worth checking out: Liberty University’s MFA in Studio and Digital Arts, Berkeley’s online BFA in Graphic Design, Bellevue’s MFA, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s low-residency MFA (a hybrid of online and on-campus requirements).