What degree do I need to be an Art Director?

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Art director encompasses a variety of job functions: theater, film, advertising, marketing, publishing, photography, television, web design, and video games. For all these functions, there may be several artists involved in the project, however, it’s the responsibility of the art director to unify the art pieces. The art director consolidates the pieces of the artistic puzzle to reflect the director’s desired mood, visual impact, message, concept, and style in the completed endeavor. Conversely, there are art directors who have complete autonomy-they have sole responsibility for the entire creation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2012 the median annual salary was $80,800 based upon a Bachelor’s degree plus 5 years of experience. The job growth through 2022 is only 3% which is below average. Most of the job growth is expected to be media other than publications as they lose ground to electronic print. The BLS does anticipate better job prospects in the fields of design, entertainment, sports, and related media occupations. This growth is projected at 7% in this highly competitive field.


There are numerous Associate’s degrees in visual arts: digital photography, graphic design, advertising design, film and TV production, interior design, media arts. This is a sampling of the array of degrees offered at the associate’s level. Due to the reported competitive nature of the creative arts jobs, it may be of benefit to consider a 4 year Bachelor’s degree.

A comparison of the coursework between the Associate’s and Bachelor’s programs, there are similarities. Both offer courses in graphic design, production design, digital page and web graphics, for example. According to the BLS, art directors need at least a Bachelor of Arts or Fine Arts degree. The Bureau has overlooked the many colleges and universities that offer a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in areas such as graphic design. The coursework in the B.S. and B.A. are quite similar.

Whether it’s an arts, fine arts or science 4 year degree, the preponderance of the course material for all of these consists of: digital media, typography, computer graphics, photography, printmaking, interactive graphics, web design, and color theory.

Important Qualities

Beyond the best choice of school to broaden your artistic talents, there are qualities that may enhance your success as an art director.

  • Communication skills–  art directors frequently work with complementary talents on a project. This entails the ability to express yourself well to colleagues, as well as a clients. In advertising, for example, you may be required to sell your creative idea to a client.
  • Time-management skills–  there will be time constraints in this business. It can also be a stressful profession when you must meet deadlines and client demands.
  • Creativity–  it sounds like an oxymoron. Every phase of being an art director involves creativity. This quality refers to the ability to be innovative on a consistent basis. The art director cannot rest on the merits of his/her past media production. New designs, web pages, artwork, photography, or displays will be necessitated.
  • Leadership–  the art director may be placed in the position of managing a group of artists. He/she will adapt to this role better with the skills to lead, organize, delegate, motivate, and instruct the team members.

Of these four qualities, creativity is most often perceived as being innate. The other skills should be incorporated into your education process. If courses in communication, time-management, and leadership skills are not offered in your degree program, then take the initiative to learn about them. There are public speaking clubs that also provide the opportunity to be a leader, such as Toastmaster’s. Toastmaster’s club are found in every town and city throughout the U.S.


As with any career choice, it behooves the student to do his/her due diligence before enrolling in a 2 or 4 year college program. If possible, talk to people in the field where your artistic talents lie. Visit a company or production that employs art directors. Be inquisitive. The more information you glean, the better prepared you’ll be as you venture into the arena of becoming an art director.

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