Careers for people who are creative
Note: This is an update of an article originally published in 2015.
If you think creativity is only for artists, think again. People use creativity every day in all kinds of ways, whether posting on social media or developing a mobile app.
For some people, creativity is an essential part of their work. “To be creative is the most exciting thing you can do,” says Chris Triola, owner of a textile design studio in Lansing, Michigan. “It’s as necessary to me as eating and breathing.”
But making creativity your career typically requires hard work and perseverance. For workers who do it on their own, it also means learning how to market themselves and run a business.
This article highlights selected occupations that involve creativity. It uses U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to show employment, projected openings, and wages for these occupations. And it points out how to get started in a creative career.
Occupations and outlook
In some occupations, creativity is an integral part of the job. Artists and related workers, designers, and media and communication workers, for example, all use creativity nearly every day.
The tables show, for selected occupations, employment and the percentage of self-employed workers in 2016; projected openings, on average, from 2016 to 2026; and median annual wages in 2017. Except for three of these occupations—craft artists, floral designers, and photographers—wages were above the $37,690 median for all workers. However, these wage data do not include self-employed workers, and the rate of self-employment was higher in the occupations shown in the tables compared with 6 percent, the rate of self-employment in all occupations.
Artists and related workers
Artists and related workers create aesthetic pieces that try to capture certain beliefs, feelings, or ideas. For example, a painter may try to express happiness through a watercolor landscape of a summer day. Workers in the occupations shown in table 1 typically develop a unique style, which helps to set them apart from others in their field.
The occupations in table 1 are projected to have a total of about 17,800 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026. Art directors is projected to have the most openings of the occupations in the table. It also had the highest median annual wage of any occupation in this article: $92,500.
Designers, such as those in table 2, make original creations that have practical or aesthetic purpose. Businesses in nearly all industries rely on designers to develop and implement ideas for products or services. Designers may start a project by sketching ideas on paper or creating a computer prototype. Feedback from clients and staff members helps refine the ideas into a final product.
BLS projects the occupations in table 2 to have a total of about 43,200 openings each year, on average, over the 2016–26 decade. Graphic designers is projected to have more than twice as many openings as any other occupation in this article. With a median annual wage of $67,420, fashion designers had the highest wage of the occupations in table 2.
Media and communication workers
The media and communication workers in table 3 use words or images to convey information and ideas. Some write fictional stories; others capture information or describe actual events, such as breaking news.
Overall, BLS projects about 40,600 openings, each year, on average from 2016 to 2026 for the occupations in table 3. Writers and authors is projected to have the most openings of these occupations. Technical writers had a median annual wage of $70,930, the highest of the occupations in the table.
You’ll need some combination of skills, education and training, and experience to get started in a creative career. Networking and promoting your work are also important.
Creative workers need technical skills relevant to their occupation, which may involve use of certain equipment. For example, a craft artist who specializes in woodworking needs to be able to make bevel and groove cuts with a saw and a chisel, among other tools.
Communication skills are also important for creative workers. Having ideas is not enough; you must be able to share those ideas through writing or speaking.
And for many people in creative occupations, business skills are pivotal to success—especially if you’re self-employed. The Small Business Administration and the nonprofit SCORE offer information for small business owners through free or low-cost resources and services, including workshops, networking events, and one-on-one mentorships.
Education, training, and experience
According to BLS, most creative occupations typically require a bachelor’s degree for workers to qualify at the entry level. And in about half of these occupations, workers receive on-the-job training to help them hone their craft. (See table 4.)
Getting an education can help you to build a solid technical and artistic foundation—and may improve employment prospects. Even in occupations that don’t typically require education in a formal program, creative workers usually benefit from hands-on learning. For example, you could start out as a hobbyist, then turn your passion into a career after discovering a market for your work.
As table 4 also shows, most creative occupations don’t require work experience in a related occupation to qualify for entry-level positions. Still, in occupations such as illustrators and photographers, workers may have started out as assistants or apprentices. Among the few that do need experience is editors; workers in this occupation typically gain experience in a related one, such as reporter.
Networking and self-promotion
To pursue a creative career, you should expect to take the initiative in networking and promoting your work. This process is often difficult in the beginning, when you don’t have a large portfolio or many professional connections. But it usually gets easier as you build a reputation.
Having an online portfolio and a social media presence may help you to market your creativity. And applying for grants, such as through the National Endowment for the Arts, offers potential funding.
Above all, remember to be patient. As workers in most fields can attest, it usually takes years to develop a solid career.
For more information
To learn more about the creative occupations in this article—and hundreds of others—see the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). Each OOH profile includes information about work environment, pay, job outlook, and more.
Dennis Vilorio (updated by Elka Torpey), "Careers for people who are creative," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2018.