Teaching Careers Updated October 28, 2019

Art Teacher Careers: Job, Education, and Salary Information

By Alisa Bates, PhD August 16, 2012

Art teachers instruct, inspire and help students express themselves creatively. Through their art, people of all ages can not only explore their emotions, they can share them as well. They can also use art to explore their creativity and give free rein to their imaginations. As an art teacher, you will guide your students through all these processes and also instill in them a lifelong love of art in all its facets.

Art education includes a balance of theoretical and practical knowledge of art theory, color theory, design, art history, and other art-related subjects. The art curriculum in K-8 is broad and gets more concentrated in high school and college.

K-12 art teachers in public schools may work with students from kindergarten through secondary school, based on their certification. Teaching art at the college level or teaching K-12 at a private school doesn’t require certification. Most teachers don’t have to work during the summer months, although some teach summer school.

Our guide offers insights into the required education, salary and job outlook of the art teaching profession. Browse through the content or use the following links to jump to your desired destination:

At-a-glance: Art teachers

Art teacher job description

Art teachers work in school and community settings providing instruction on the basic principles of art as well as art history. Art teachers instruct their students in the knowledge and usage of skills and techniques of artistic expression. They foster creativity and provide the tools and techniques for students to share and explore their imagination and self-expression. But teaching art is more than just art projects. Students also learn about art history, color theory, composition, and elements of design.

Typical duties:

  • Prepare lessons
  • Provide and prepare supplies needed to complete the assignments
  • Instruct students individually and in groups
  • Use various teaching methods such as lectures, discussions, and demonstrations
  • Explain and demonstrate artistic techniques
  • Evaluate and grade student classwork and projects
  • Develop and enforce classroom rules
  • Initiate, facilitate, and moderate classroom discussions
  • Participate in professional conferences
  • Stay current on state and local standards
  • Communicate with parents and administration

Who makes a good art teacher?

Art is an essential part of what makes us human. It brings light, color, beauty, and peace into our everyday lives. Art can also be a dynamic form of expression, allowing us to create expressions of our anger, love, hurt, joy, or loss. If you’re an artist and art lover who longs to ignite that passion in others, becoming an art teacher could be your ideal career choice.

Additionally, a great art teacher is:

  • An artist who is passionate about teaching
  • Able to encourage creativity in others
  • Resourceful
  • Flexible
  • Energized by working with young people
  • Skilled in traditional 2D and 3D art techniques, as well as digital art tools

Art teachers in-depth

Art teachers at varying levels

Art education includes a balance of theoretical and practical knowledge of art theory, color theory, design, art history, and other art-related subjects. The art curriculum in K-8 is broad and gets more concentrated in high school and college.

The work environment of an art teacher depends on the art medium being taught and the age of the students involved. For instance, a class filled with young children will require lots of hands-on aid from their teacher. The environment for a college-level line-drawing class will probably be a quiet studio with good lighting and lots of open space for drawing tables. A pot-throwing class, on the other hand, will require work benches, potter’s wheels, and firing kilns.

A number of other factors come into play in deciding what education level to teach. These include:

  • Range and breadth of art concepts: the higher the grade level, the more specialized the curriculum.
  • Age and motor skill levels of students, from kindergarten to college.
  • Local salary considerations and employment opportunities.

Elementary school art teachers

The creative environment of an art class — especially one that involves children — necessitates a certain amount of chaos. If you thrive in a noisy, busy, messy, unstructured environment, you will thrive as an elementary art teacher.

Elementary art teachers generally teach grades K-5 (children aged 5-12). Students in the lower grade levels are typically more excited to be in art class, and the art teacher can even be viewed as a celebrity in some schools. Elementary art teachers instruct classes each day and may teach in a single school or travel from school to school within a district.

The purpose of K-5 art classes is to inspire an interest in art and allow students to creatively express themselves through visual arts. Students learn basic skills in drawing, painting and crafts.

Middle school art teachers

Middle school art teachers generally teach students from grades 6-8 and are trained to understand the psychological, social, and intellectual development of children ages 11-14.

Teaching students of this age combines elements of teaching both high school and elementary school students. The time during middle school is when youth are most transformed. They enter as children and leave as teens. Having a strong understanding of adolescent psychology and being able to relate to this age group is important for middle school teachers.

Middle school art classes continue to refine students’ basic skills in art and begin lessons on various art theories and art history. Various elements of art are covered: shapes, textures, perspective, etc.

At this level, the skills and abilities of each student vary greatly. With this age group, the lessons are more complex, but the students may be less motivated to do the work because they doubt their skills and don’t want to appear foolish in front of their peers.

High school art teachers

Art classes at the lower levels are usually included as a standard course within the overall school curriculum. At the high school level, most classes are attended by students choosing to enroll as part of their elective course load.

High school classes allow a more concentrated and specific focus on one or more artistic mediums. Some of the more specific classes offered include ceramics, photography, video production, and computer animation. Art theory is further explored and students spend more time on creating art.

Many students at this level show an innate talent for artistic expression and seek guidance and support from their art teachers about college and career choices. Art teachers tend to be an inspiration for those wishing to make art a future career. These students often seek assistance in building portfolios and guidance on the next steps in creating a profession with their talents.

Postsecondary school art teachers

College art teachers help students develop their artistic techniques and give insight on how to market and build their creative portfolios.

Art professors prefer to teach their favored media, such as painting, drawing, digital media, or ceramics. Art professors typically show and sell their work, in addition to their teaching duties.

Postsecondary art teachers’ schedules tend to be more flexible than their K-12 counterparts. College teachers need to be on campus to teach classes and keep office hours. However, many postsecondary teachers typically spend some time, outside of their teaching and student advising duties, in carrying out administrative responsibilities such as serving on committees.

Art courses at the college level are more specialized than at the K-12 level. Subjects can include painting, drawing, graphic design, sculpture, photography, animation, media arts, and art history. Most college art professors must also have at least several years of professional artist experience in the medium they wish to teach.

Teaching art online

Art instruction is not just restricted to the classroom. Many postsecondary art educators teach classes online. They typically give the lecture and demonstrate the techniques through video, then students post their work online for discussion and feedback. Many of these online instructors work as adjunct instructors and teach on a contract basis. Some online adjuncts teach several courses for multiple schools and work enough hours to be considered full time.

To learn more about adjunct professors, visit Room 241’s Adjunct Professor posting.

Education and certification requirements for art teachers

  • Education: Master’s or doctorate degree
  • Typical study time: 4-8 years

The requirements and education level needed to teach art depends upon the level of the class being offered. Teaching art at an after-school program or a community center may require nothing more than a basic understanding of art and art techniques. To teach at an elementary, middle, or high school, most states require teaching candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. Most states also require the completion of a master’s degree within five years of obtaining certification for continued employment.

Postsecondary art teachers may find employment at community colleges with a master’s degree. Most four-year colleges and universities require doctoral degrees for employment.

Today, many teachers come from various backgrounds of study. Most future teachers enroll in a teacher education program in college. These programs offer studies relating to classroom management and curriculum development, with a semester-long student teaching practicum. These students usually graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education and can begin teaching immediately. Concordia University-Portland’s bachelor in education is a great program for future teachers.

Other teachers, after completing a more specialized program of studies and sometimes even after spending years as a professional in a related field, turn to a career in education.

With a bachelor’s degree, education hopefuls find enrollment in education-based master’s and doctoral degree programs imperative in finding a career as a teacher.

For art teachers who are considering a master’s degree, grade level, relevant curriculum, and educational leadership are three primary considerations. Concordia University-Portland’s MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: STEAM concentration alleviates many challenges associated with teaching art. Other programs include master of arts in teaching, MEd program and EdD program.

Certification and licensing

A state-issued teaching certificate or license is generally required to teach. Specific certification and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Teachers are often required to complete years of teaching and take professional development courses as a condition of certification.

Teaching license reciprocity by state: Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page for regulations in your state.

A note on tenure: For teachers, a significant goal in the traditional academic career is to attain tenure. Tenure is often seen as a guarantee for a lifetime position. Unfortunately, though widely believed, that is not the case. Tenure mandates that due process will be followed before the dismissal of any teacher holding tenure.

Teachers enter education on probationary status and can be terminated without just cause and/or proper documentation before tenure is granted. The process for tenure can take three to four years. During this time, teachers are evaluated by administrators, mentors, and often peers on their job performance.

Salary range and employment projections for art teachers

Elementary, middle, and high school teachers

Salary ranges for middle and high school teachers can vary depending upon the state, school district, experience, and degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a teacher at the elementary, middle, and high school levels can vary.

*Specific salary ranges for teachers overall, not art-specific.

  • According to the BLS, the median annual salary for elementary teachers is $57,980. The lowest 10% earn less than $37,780 and the highest 10% earn more than $95,270.
  • The median annual salary for middle school teachers is $58,600. The lowest 10% earn less than $39,090 and the highest 10% earn more than $93,180.
  • The median salary for high school teachers is $60,320. The lowest 10% earn less than $39,740 and the highest 10% earn more than $97,500.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, average pay for art teachers by state varies from $30,670 to $43,401.

Here is a snapshot of average art teacher salaries:

  • ZipRecruiter.com: $39,661
  • Glassdoor.com: $45,298
  • CareerExplorer.com: $34,280
  • Salary.com: $44,255

The BLS states that the employment of teachers in general is projected to grow 4% from 2018 to 2028. Employment growth for public school teachers may depend on state and local government budgets. Many teachers will be needed to replace those who retire or leave the profession for other reasons.

Postsecondary art teachers

Salary ranges for postsecondary art teachers can vary depending upon the institution of employment, state, experience, and degree level.

  • According to the BLS, the median annual salary for a postsecondary art, drama, or music teacher at a community or junior college is $78,270.
  • Postsecondary art, drama, or music teachers at a four-year institution have a median salary of $78,610.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, average pay for art professors by state varies from $32,286 to $45,688.

Here is a snapshot of average art professors salaries:

  • ZipRecruiter.com: $41,751
  • Glassdoor.com: $49,641
  • Comparably.com: $49,453

Employment of all postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028. Part-time positions will make up a considerable amount of these new jobs.

Advantages and disadvantages

Pros:

  • Share your passion for art
  • Most students love being in art class
  • Inspire and mentor others
  • Opportunity to teach students who are interested in art
  • Work with young minds
  • Every day is different
  • Make a difference
  • High degree of autonomy
  • Opportunities to continue learning and expand talent

Cons:

  • Teaching art is very different than creating art
  • Relatively lower salary than other careers
  • Long hours during the school year
  • State and local standards
  • Little adult contact during the day
  • School funding

Professional development for art teachers

Continuing education is a great way to keep a career on track, expand knowledge, remain competitive, and increase real value in the job market. Many art teachers continue to take courses throughout their careers to improve their classroom skills and keep their teaching credentials current.

As the K-12 art curriculum includes more digital art, many art educators find they need to update their skills with more training in digital art media. These classes are offered through community colleges, universities, and online. For K-12 teachers especially, continuing education classes are required as a condition of certification renewal.

Other avenues for professional development are conventions and conferences. The National Art Education Association (NAEA) holds a national convention each year where art teachers can learn about new developments in the field, take continuing education classes, and network with other art educators.

Professional associations for art teachers

Best of the Web

The internet is ideal for art teachers as a tool for research, lesson planning, and presentations. Here is a small list of our favorites:

Favorite art teacher websites:

Favorite art teacher Twitter and Instagram to follow:

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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