The True Value of Being a College Art Major

Senior art theory and practice major Hope Hellman repairs her piece, entitled
Senior art theory and practice major Hope Hellman repairs her piece, entitled “Narcissus,” for the 2015 senior show at Northwestern University’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery.

The stereotype of the young struggling artist has made its way into books, plays, movies and many other forms of entertainment. Though not a perfect representation of what it means to be an artist, these portrayals ring partly true in an economy where the art industry has the highest level of unemployment out of any other field. However, college art majors still manage to be just as passionate about their work as ever. Read on to get inside the world of a college art major. Learn what inspires them to break the mold and to continue doing what they love.

by Abigail Kamen/MEDILL

Many art school students are coming up short in their quest to find jobs after graduation. A study from H&R Block shows that the art industry has one of the highest rates of unemployment. Jobs in the area of fine arts are expected to grow by 3 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to Nicole Ferentz, director of fine arts at Loyola University Chicago, graphic design majors have become much more popular than fine arts majors. “There are jobs in graphic design,” explained Ferentz.

Rated one of the ten least valuable college majors by, a degree in fine arts incurs on average $30,000 per year for recent college graduates, about $17,000 less than the yearly tuition to attend a high-ranking private art school such as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

But according to Art Institute sophomore Victoria Fried, this isn’t the whole picture.

Fried has friends who have plans to go to medical school after graduation, and others going to some of the top art therapy programs in the country.

“With an art degree you can kind of do anything,” said Fried. “We’re taught to be able to research. We take multiple classes that…are based around writing and around exploration.”

Many find a degree in fine arts a valuable background to have before moving onto graduate studies or even other fields of work.

According to Dr. Marilyn Dunn, who teaches art history at Loyola, “Students learn transferable skills that qualify them for jobs in all different types of areas. They learn to write, think critically and construct arguments.”

Still, students are worried.

“I think about it a lot, how I’m probably going to live in a cardboard box after college,” said Fried jokingly.

“Jobs are something that students are thinking more about,” explained Dunn. “Nowadays we stress their networking skills and making connections.”

One of the best resources schools can offer students who are worried about finding a job after graduation are their extensive and tightknit alumni networks.

“You’re connected to this giant resource of people who have real jobs and are willing to hire you to intern with them,” said Fried. “There are a ton of graphic design firms in the city that are completely run by Art Institute kids. They find ways to continue making their art as well as having a career and a job and a company.”

The Art Institute also has a Career and Co-op Center that sets students up with internships, many of which students can take for credit during the year.

According to Fried, “You can just walk in anytime.”

Despite the work schools put into making sure their students are equipped with the resources they need, for some students it does not matter whether or not they will have connections or secure employment after graduation.

“I don’t think anyone goes into art or art history because of great job opportunities,” said Dunn. “They go into it because that’s what they’re interested in.”

Get inside the head of Paige Webb, an art theory and practice major at Northwestern University, who uses her dreams to inform her art.

Learn about the production of “Gorge,” the 2015 Department of Art Theory and Practice Senior Show.

Scroll over some of the senior art majors’ work for information on the pieces in the 2015 senior show and quotes from the artists.

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