Lately, I’ve been interested in finding facts about the status of professional visual artists in this country. Is the “starving artist” a commonplace condition or a myth?
This led me to the NEA website where one may access their publications on this topic and more. To see the list and read the research publications, go here.
Research Report #48 Artists in the Workforce: 1990 - 2005 (which is a follow-up of Research Report #37 Artists in the Workforce: Employment and Earnings 1970 – 1990) provides us with a scenario based upon statistics from census data. Therefore, Americans who declared their primary career as “artist” make up the data base for this report. “Artist” includes all forms of art (e.g. literature, theater, music, visual arts, etc) but I’ve chosen to focus upon the visual arts in this report. We are listed as “fine artists,” which is defined as “art directors; craft artists; fine artists include: painters, sculptors, and illustrators; multi-media artists;animators.”
Here are some interesting findings about the state of professional fine artists in the USA between 1990 and 2005:
We make up 11% of the total population of artists in this country between 2003 and 2005, which is a total population of 216,996. (Designers are 39%, Performing Artists 17% Architects 10%, Writers/Authors 9%, Producers/Directors 7%, and Photographers 7%). The total population of artists in all categories numbered nearly two million.
Between 1970 and 1990, the number of artists [in all categories] more than doubled from 737,000 to 1.7 million—a much larger gain than the labor force as a whole—but between 1990 and 2005, the number of artists grew by 15.7 %, compared with a 17.4 % increase for the overall labor force.
There have been shifts among artist occupations. Between1990 and 2000, the number of artists grew by 11.6%, an increase of about 200,000 artists. Over that period, the number of designers rose by 130,000 while the number of fine artists decreased by 47,000. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of designers again increased, this time by about 30,000, while the fine artists continued to decline by another 15,000.
Not surprisingly, most artists during this time lived in California, New York, Florida, and Texas. On average, in 2000, there were 68 artists for every 10,000 people and 8 of those were fine artists. However, in Vermont and New Mexico, 15 were fine artists, followed closely by Hawaii and Montana with 10 or more.
As you would expect, opportunities for employment as an artist are greater in metropolitan areas. Half of all artists live in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. But, the homes for fine artists are (in order of highest to lowest population):
Santa Fe, NM
San Francisco, CA
Santa Rosa, CA
Los Angeles-Long Beach,CA
New York, NY
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA
Fort Collins-Loveland, CO
San Luis Obispo-Atascadero-Paso Robles, CA
It looks like we mostly like to settle along the East and West Coasts.
Gender , Age, Race, and Education
I was unable to find the statistics for these categories in the “fine arts” so the following statements apply to artists in all categories:
Artists in all categories are more likely to be men than women.
In 2000, the median age of artists was 39, the same as the median age of the U.S. labor force, both up from 37 in 1990. As the baby boomers aged, the median age rose to 40 by 2005, for artists and for the labor force as a whole.
In keeping with the labor force as a whole, most artists are white, but again like the labor force, the artist population is quickly becoming more diverse.
Artists have higher education levels than the labor force as a whole. In 2000, 51% of artists had bachelor’s degrees or a higher level of education, compared with 26% of the U.S. labor force and 64% of professional and related occupations. In the 2003-2005 data, over 5 % of artists had bachelor’s degrees or higher, suggesting that the proportion of artists with degrees is rising.
A report of the American Community Survey, 2003–2005 indicates that Fine artists, art directors, and animators had a total population of 216,996, 47.4% of are women, 15.8% are minorities, 44 is the median age of the population, 25.7% are under the age of 35, 51.2% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 5.8% are enrolled in school.
Employment and Income
Compared with the American labor force as a whole, artists are much more likely to be self-employed. Almost one-third of artists were self-employed in 2000, compared with less than 10% of the labor force. About half of fine artists and writers were self-employed.
The 2003-2005 data indicate that the numbers of self-employed artists are increasing, with 35% of all artists self-employed, and each artist occupation showing more than 20% self-employed.
Compared to other professionals, artists are less likely to report full-time employment in their field (more than 35 hrs/wk and 50 wks/yr).
In 1999, the median income for fine artists was $25,000/year. By comparison, the median income for artists in all categories was $30,000/year.
The median income for artists in 2003-2005 was $34,800, or $29,700 when adjusted for inflation to represent 1999 dollars. Full-year, full-time artists earned $45,200 (unadjusted) while the median income for full-year, fulltime professionals was $52,500. Producers and writers who worked full time had incomes above $50,000, and the median income for full-year, full-time architects was higher, at $63,500. For the 45 percent of artists who did not work full time all year, however, the median income
was $20,000. The 2003-2005 median income for all women artists was $27,300, or 65 percent of the $42,000 median income for all male artists.
A report of the American Community Survey, 2003–2005 indicates that among Fine artists, art directors, and animators 51.5% are full-time full-year workers, 55.6% are self-employed, 39.0% are in the private for profit employment sector, the median 2005 income is $30,600, for men that income is $37,800 and for women that income is $22,600. The median income for full-year, full-time workers is $42,800 (51.5% of fine artists).
Returning to my original inquiry about the “starving artist” image it seems that it is a myth – at least for men. It looks like women must live on a much smaller income that can’t support a reasonable lifestyle in an urban area where most artists live. So, women tend to fit the "starving artist" image. But, you can form your own conclusions.
What are they?