Entry-level position for design school graduate, graphic designer wannabe, slave to arrogant art directors, pawn to lazy account executives, general dogsbody to dictatorial production managers.
IOW, shit rolls downhill.
In the fun, fun world of print production (the end of the advertising business that actually does the work of making print ads and collateral materials), the production artist assembles and prepares print materials, using text from copywriters and graphics, following an art director's layout. In the old days the production artist worked with t-square and triangle, doing cut-and-paste with Exacto-knife and spray mount or hot wax. These days the same tasks are accomplished with a computer, usually Macintosh, and software applications for page layout (eg Adobe formerly Aldus PageMaker, Quark XPress, Adobe InDesign), illustration (eg Macromedia, formerly Aldus Freehand, Adobe Illustrator) and photo-editing (eg Adobe Photoshop).
The production artist can be either a member of the art department, in which case she is under the direction of the head art director or creative director, or the production department, in which case she answers to the production supervisor.
A good production artist needs a well-developed sense of aesthetics, design and typography. She is detail-oriented and a perfectionist to the point of being obsessive-compulsive. She spoils her art directors as they grow to rely upon her to tidy up their sloppy layouts. She gets no credit.
Production art is more craft than art. The position is underpaid and undervalued. I believe that art directors should serve a minimum two-year apprenticeship as production artists so they will learn how to design for print production and to appreciate the work of the production artist.
My credentials? Production artist and graphic designer since 1982, thank you very much.