What is a Visual and Performing Arts Degree?

A Visual and Performing Arts degree is an academic program focused on cultivating skills and knowledge in various artistic disciplines. This degree encompasses a wide range of creative fields, typically including fine arts, music, theater, dance, and film. Here’s a closer look at what such a degree entails:

Disciplines Covered

  • Fine Arts: This area includes painting, sculpture, drawing, and photography. Students learn about art history, theory, and techniques, and often produce a portfolio of work.
  • Music: Music programs cover performance, music theory, composition, and music history. Students may specialize in vocal or instrumental performance, music education, or music production.
  • Theater: Theater studies include acting, directing, playwriting, and stage design. Students participate in performances and learn about theater history and criticism.
  • Dance: Dance programs focus on performance, choreography, and dance theory. Students learn various dance styles and participate in productions.
  • Film and Media Arts: This field involves film production, screenwriting, and media studies. Students gain skills in directing, editing, and film analysis.

Core Components of the Degree

  • Technical Skills: Developing proficiency in the chosen art form through practice and coursework.
  • Creative Development: Encouraging personal artistic expression and innovation.
  • Historical and Cultural Context: Studying the history and cultural impact of the arts.
  • Performance and Exhibition: Opportunities to perform, display, or produce work for audiences.
  • Critical Analysis: Learning to critique and analyze artistic works effectively.

Program Options

Visual and Performing Arts degrees offer a variety of program options to suit different interests and career goals. Here are some common types of programs and specializations available:

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA): Focuses on intensive training in a specific art form such as painting, sculpture, theater, dance, or film. Graduates often pursue careers as professional artists, performers, or designers. Specializations include Graphic Design, Ceramics, Acting, Ballet, and Filmmaking.
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Visual and Performing Arts: Offers a broader liberal arts education with a focus on various art forms. Graduates can pursue careers in arts administration, education, or interdisciplinary arts roles. Specializations include Art History, Music Theory, Theater Studies, and Multimedia Arts.
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA): Provides advanced, specialized training in a specific discipline, emphasizing creative practice and portfolio development. Career paths include professional artist, university-level teaching, and advanced roles in the arts industry. Specializations include Creative Writing, Dance Performance, Visual Effects, and Playwriting.
  • Master of Arts (MA) in Visual and Performing Arts: Combines practical and theoretical studies, often with a research component. Graduates can pursue careers in arts administration, curation, academic roles, or further doctoral studies. Specializations include Arts Management, Musicology, Dramaturgy, and Art Education.
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Visual and Performing Arts: Research-oriented, focusing on the history, theory, and criticism of the arts. Career paths include academic and research positions, higher education teaching, and cultural policy roles. Specializations include Art History, Music Theory, Performance Studies, and Film Studies.
  • Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA): Practice-based research and advanced creative work in a specific discipline. Graduates often take leading roles in artistic production, university teaching, and advanced professional practice. Specializations include Creative Practice, Theatre Directing, and Media Arts.
  • Professional Certificates: Short-term, intensive training in specific skills or disciplines. These are suitable for professionals looking to enhance their skills, career changers, or those building a portfolio. Specializations include Digital Photography, Jazz Studies, Costume Design, and Screenwriting.
  • Post-Baccalaureate Certificates: Additional training for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree. These programs are useful for transitioning to a new field or preparing for advanced degrees. Specializations include Art Therapy, Performance Art, Animation, and Music Production.
  • Online Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees: Offer flexible learning options for various disciplines within visual and performing arts. These programs are ideal for working professionals or remote students. Specializations include Graphic Design, Digital Media, Music Business, and Arts Leadership.
  • Notable Institutions Offering Visual and Performing Arts Programs: Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Juilliard School, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Berklee College of Music, and Yale School of Drama.

Skills You’ll Learn

The following skills learned while in a Visual and Performing Arts Degree not only prepare you for careers in the arts but also equip you with valuable abilities that are applicable in various other fields, such as education, marketing, and management.

  • Technical Proficiency: Mastery of tools and techniques specific to your art form, such as painting techniques, musical instruments, stagecraft, or film editing.
  • Creative Development: Cultivating personal artistic expression and innovation, allowing you to develop a unique artistic voice.
  • Critical Analysis: Learning to critique and analyze artistic works effectively, understanding their cultural and historical context, and evaluating their impact.
  • Collaboration: Working with others in performances, productions, or group projects, developing teamwork and communication skills.
  • Communication: Expressing ideas effectively through various artistic mediums, as well as verbal and written forms.
  • Historical and Cultural Awareness: Gaining a deep understanding of the history and cultural significance of different art forms, which informs your practice and perspective.
  • Performance and Presentation Skills: Techniques for engaging and captivating an audience, whether through live performance, exhibitions, or digital media.
  • Project Management: Planning, organizing, and executing artistic projects from conception to completion, including budgeting, scheduling, and resource management.
  • Adaptability and Problem-Solving: Developing the ability to think on your feet and adapt to new challenges or unexpected situations in creative processes.
  • Networking and Professional Development: Building connections within the art community, learning about career opportunities, and developing a professional portfolio or body of work.

What Can You Do with a Visual and Performing Arts Degree?

A Visual and Performing Arts degree opens up a wide range of career opportunities across various industries. Here are some potential career paths:

Careers in the Arts

  • Artist: Work as a painter, sculptor, illustrator, or multimedia artist, creating original works for galleries, commissions, or personal projects.
  • Performer: Become an actor, dancer, musician, or singer, performing in theaters, films, concerts, or other venues.
  • Graphic Designer: Create visual content for advertisements, websites, branding, and other media using design software and artistic skills.
  • Photographer: Specialize in fields such as portrait, commercial, fashion, or fine art photography, working independently or for agencies.
  • Film and Video Editor: Edit and assemble raw footage into finished products for movies, television shows, advertisements, or online content.

Careers in Education and Outreach

  • Art Teacher: Teach art, music, theater, or dance at elementary, secondary, or post-secondary levels, or offer private lessons.
  • Art Therapist: Use the creative process to help individuals improve their mental health and emotional well-being.
  • Community Arts Coordinator: Develop and manage arts programs for community centers, non-profit organizations, or educational institutions.

Careers in Media and Communications

  • Animator: Create animations and visual effects for films, television, video games, and online content.
  • Art Director: Oversee the visual style and creative aspects of magazines, newspapers, product packaging, or film and television productions.
  • Creative Director: Lead creative teams in advertising agencies, design firms, or media companies, guiding the overall vision and strategy for projects.
  • Public Relations Specialist: Manage communication between organizations and their audiences, often using artistic skills to create compelling campaigns.

Careers in Arts Management and Administration

  • Curator: Work in museums, galleries, or cultural institutions, organizing exhibitions and managing collections.
  • Arts Administrator: Handle the business side of arts organizations, including fundraising, marketing, and event planning.
  • Gallery Manager: Oversee the daily operations of an art gallery, including sales, exhibitions, and artist relations.

Specialized and Interdisciplinary Roles

  • Costume Designer: Design costumes for theater, film, television, and events, often collaborating closely with directors and production teams.
  • Set Designer: Create and manage the physical environment for theater productions, films, or television shows.
  • Music Producer: Oversee the recording and production of music tracks, working with artists, engineers, and record labels.
  • Choreographer: Design and direct dance routines and performances for dance companies, theater productions, music videos, and other events.


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