MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

How to Become an Art Director

Art directors dictate the visual style of newspapers, magazines, movie and television productions, and more. They decide the best way to represent a concept visually, choose the photographs and other design elements to use, and oversee a design staff. Directors review and approve designs developed by staff members and they present these designs to clients for approval. Art directors work in a variety of industries, such as in publishing or advertising. Other responsibilities include:

  • Determining the visual style of a magazine, newspaper, movie or television production, and more
  • Selecting photographs and other design elements
  • Overseeing design staff and establish detailed budgets and deadlines
  • Presenting designs to clients

The BLS expects employment of art directors to grow 2% from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than average for all occupations. Job opportunities may decline due to the contraction of the print publishing industry, but that may be offset by the expected growth of online media such as websites and digital magazines. The best prospects may be in advertising or public relations, according to the BLS.

Becoming an Art Director

Careers in art directing typically require a bachelor’s degree in a subject related to art or design and a certain amount of professional work experience. A bachelor’s in fine arts is common for people who work in this field. This degree is offered with many different specializations, such as graphic design, painting, photography, film, and sculpture. Regardless of the specialization, students get plenty of hands-on experience creating and critiquing various forms of art. They also study the historical and theoretical contexts of art and express their ideas in writing and spoken word.

Directors start their careers as graphic designers, copy editors, photographers, or something closely related. Entry-level workers in this field typically need to assemble a strong professional portfolio that showcases their skills and creativity. Although degrees are important, employers base a large part of their decision to hire a candidate based on the strength of his or her portfolio. Once the artist acquires three to five years of work experience they may be qualified for employment as an art director. However, experience may not be enough for this role. Prospective art directors must show the ability to take on a managerial role while also being the creative inspiration to their team.

Some art director jobs may require candidates to have a master’s degree in fine arts or business administration. Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs offer a number of specializations that cater to a wide range of interests, similar to the undergraduate program. The MFA gives students the chance to further develop their artistic skills in a structured environment, which means their work is critiqued by professors and other professionals. These programs are typically customizable by students, which means they can select the classes they believe will prepare them for their careers. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is another option, but this program is focused more on developing business acumen and management skills.

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