Busting The Myth That Fine-Arts Degrees Lead To The Poorhouse

There’s a widely held conception that people who earn degrees in the fine arts — painting, sculpture, dance, music, theater, among others — are throwing money away on a degree that can reap no long-term benefits. But the fact is that a fine-arts degree is no real hindrance to making a decent living in the real world.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a 2011 study from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, in which it found that the median income of recent fine-arts graduates was a respectable $42,000 and that the unemployment rate for those recent graduates was a better than average 7.8%.

“Artists can have good careers, earning a middle-class income,” says the Center’s director. “And, just as important and maybe more, artists tend to be happy with their choices and lives.”

According to that report, former fine-arts majors are making about the same living as all those people who have a liberal arts degree. In some cases, those with a fine-arts background are actually doing better.

“They do a little better than psychology majors, since counseling and social work is a very low-wage occupation,” explains the director.

Unemployment among those with graduate degrees in the fine arts is below 5%, while the median income goes up a bit to $50,000.

While some people leave behind their easels and trombones when they graduate and go get jobs unrelated to their studies, the Journal cites a Vanderbilt University study of around 2,800 fine-arts graduates and found that, between 1999 and 2009, 4 out of 5 of these artists had found work related to their studies.

So if your kids are talking about wanting to go to college and pursue an education in the arts, don’t assume that this is a dead-end full of debt, when it could be the start of a long and happy career (or at least a good way to spend four years).