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How do Today’s Artists Make a Living? By Getting A Part-time Job, New Study Shows

A survey of 1,016 visual artists across the world finds that the badges of professional success don’t necessarily equate to financial stability

Vincent Van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1889. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; Art Institute of Chicago

Vincent Van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1889. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; Art Institute of Chicago

Vincent Van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1889. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; Art Institute of Chicago

A new study finds that the path to financial stability for those working in the visual arts today ‘is neither straight nor predictable’. A survey carried out by Creative Independent, Kickstarter’s creatives platform, polled 1,016 visual artists across the world. ‘When faced with the question of whether to seek out gallery representation, attempt to sell art on their own, or keep a day job while hustling to make art on the side, many emerging visual artists have no firm guide posts to look to on their journey,’ Willa Köerner, Creative Independent’s creative content director said.

32% of respondents have worked in the visual arts for more than a decade, while 37% have just begun over the last 5 years. 75% are based in the US. Of these, 12% indicated on a scale of 1 to 10 that they did not consider themselves financially stable at all (rated as a 1). Just 3% gave their financial stability rating a 9 or 10. The median income was USD$20,000 to USD$30,000 (60% made under USD$30,000). By contrast, the US median household income is USD$58,000. Just 17% of respondents made more than that.

Unsurprisingly, it appears that artists today make a living through several sources of income. 61% are freelancers, and 42% hold jobs that don’t relate to their art practice. Most of the respondents see making art as a part-time job (only 10% spent over 40 hours a week making art). Nearly 50% of respondents said that under 10% of their income was related to their art, and 29% depended on family money. Just 17% artists said they were making over 75% of their income from art.

29% of the artists surveyed had gallery representation, but of these respondents, it was not clear whether it had helped them on the path to financial stability. Asked to respond on a scale of 1 to 10 on whether representation had helped financial stability, the median response was 3. 63% of the artists had an art-related degree, but felt ambivalent about whether it had helped them become more financially stable (on a scale of 1 to 10, the media response was 4). However, they were more confident that their degree had helped them build a stronger career.

The study’s findings follows on from a report released by the Freelands Foundation, which says that the gender disparity in major London galleries has got worse. The Foundation’s analysis of figures compiled over 2017 argues that there is a pronounced gender gap in the professional markers of an artist’s career, including securing commercial representation or being recognized with a solo exhibition at a major London institution.

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