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Express Yourself: Art, Design and Fashion Careers

"Anything well designed, from a poster to a piece of furniture, has the power to deliver and express a message, a personality, a vision, a mission of a 'brand'." That from Cinthia Wen, the chair of the graphic design department at the California College of the Arts. It's no wonder that a successful art, design, or fashion career usually starts with a strong educational foundation.

And of course, the scope of art, design and fashion education is forever changing, mostly due to the sweeping advances in technology. "Technology has made design, or the idea of anyone being a designer, accessible and tempting. Fonts and software are readily available for everyone," notes Wen. "The challenge within such accessibility is defining what makes design an inimitable and specialized profession -- the ability to conceptualize, the methods and processes, and the artistry to visually communicate. A creator vs. an operator."

So how can you set yourself apart as a professional designer or artist with a strong potential for career growth as opposed to someone with a knack or hobby for design? Read on...

Art, Design and Fashion Degrees
Art, design, and fashion courses and degree programs are as varied as the shades on a color wheel. Students who wish to have the best opportunities (or those who want to teach art education) will most likely seek a bachelor's degree or a master of fine arts degree. There are also intense programs offered by art and design schools that have a professional focus as opposed to an art major who also studies within a liberal arts curriculum.

Increasingly, students are pursuing art and design degree programs that have specializations in fields like animation, gaming, interior design, fashion design, or web design. To decide which degree path or school is right for your career pursuit, it's a good idea to connect with people working in the industry to get their take on the education needed to succeed.

"I believe that anyone can learn the skills necessary to become an artist or designer," says Linda W. Wood, Ph.D., department chair of graphic design and photographic imaging at The Art Institute of Atlanta. "Some may possess more natural ability than others, but given enough time and hard work, the skill sets level off eventually. It takes dedication, hard work, and persistence to be successful in the applied arts field."

What's also important to remember is that the learning doesn't end once you take off your graduation cap. "Whatever is going on today, will be obsolete tomorrow. Therefore what's important is not just to know technology, but to know how to learn and re-learn ways of doing things in the midst of the rapid and constant changes in technology," says June Bisantz , a professor of art and design at Eastern Connecticut State University.

In other words, taking refresher courses, learning new design programs on your own, staying up on the fashion trends, and/or attending professional conferences and seminars are all key to staying atop the industry.

Spotlight on Art & Design Careers
Once you finish your studies, the possibilities are endless. "Working in the Art and Design industry offers graduates the rare opportunity to combine two of the best things in life -- working hard and being creative," says Bisantz. The art and design industry offers a wide variety of ways to do that, she says, fromillustration, print design, web design, and game design, to advertising, non-profit design, industrial design, interior design and fashion design, to name a few.

"It's challenging in the best way possible -- it keeps you young and engaged and it's possible to make a very good living at it. What could be better than that?" adds Bisantz.

So which art & design path is right for you? Here's a look at four of the most popular directions

Graphic Design
If color correcting photos and using graphic design programs to create flyers for a local event is your idea of a good time, then why not consider graphic design schools to help you hone your artistic talents?

Graphic design schools will help you transform your hobby into a real, marketable skill set, with courses in basic art and design, computer graphic design programs, web site design, print production, and more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, entry-level graphic design jobs often only require an associate degree offered at colleges, universities, design schools, or career training schools.

Graphic designers work at advertising and marketing companies, publishing houses, design studios, and motion picture production firms. The BLS reports that graphic design jobs are expected to grow 10 percent from 2008 to 2018. To stay ahead of the curve, education is key; bachelor's degree graduates and those with a strong knowledge of computer design software, Web site design and animation will have an edge.

Interior Design
If you have a keen eye for detail and have a vision for what things could potentially look like, than an interior design career may be worth pursuing. Interior designers may work with fabrics, furniture, lighting, and artwork. In fact, many interior designers have some architectural abilities, which can help in developing a vision and organization of the project. Interior designers are able to read blueprints and assess the needs of their clients, whether they are homeowners or builders.

For a creative career that will help you harness all your vision and give you a finished product to show off your work, an interior design career can be the right fit.

In this digital age of ours, photography training at top-notch photography schools is more important than ever for those wishing to stand out from the competition. And yes competition is keen, thanks to the advances in digital camera equipment and photo editing software that make everyone think they've got what it takes to work behind the lens.

What will set you apart, however, is learning the craft of photography and how you can parlay the technical and aesthetic skills into a lucrative photography career. Photography schools offer a variety of coursework that provide the building blocks to becoming a photographer. Once photography training is complete, graduates can pursue careers as freelance photographers who cover news and events, portrait studio photographers, photo editors, photojournalists, fashion photographers the list goes on and on.

According to the BLS, entry-level positions in photojournalism or in industrial or scientific photography generally require a college degree in photography or in a field related to the industry in which the photographer seeks employment. Freelance or portrait photographers can attain skills in vocational photography training programs.

Web Design
If you've always admired the creative, technical brains behind your favorite Web sites and wondered how you can leave your own mark on the Internet, Web design schools may be the answer. It's one thing to dabble in HTML or skin your Twitter profile, but true Web design skills are a tad more complex that's where web design classes come in.

Web design schools allow you to go in depth to develop skills such as Flash animation, JavaScript, HTML scripts, and other important computer programs needed to successfully design Web sites. Students at Web design schools usually work toward creating real Web sites that they can use as work samples in order to secure a job or freelance projects. What's more is they learn how to balance creative vision with savvy site architecture and techie flair.

As more and more businesses and individuals take their services online, the demand for talented Web designers will continue to grow.

Fun Art and Design Facts

  • Did you know John Lasseter, the head of Disney/Pixar, graduated from the inaugural animation program at California Institute of the Arts? A true pioneer of the digital animation nation, and it started in a classroom!
  • Massachusetts College of Art and Design is the first independent public college of art and design, and the first art school to grant an art degree. Go MassArt!
  • Among the big-name artists to attend New York City's Parsons The New School for Design include Marc Jabobs, Norman Rockwell, and Donna Karan.