The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Starving Artist" - Myth or Fact?

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
Barnstable-Yarmouth, MA
Stamford-Norwalk, CT
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?


Studio at the Farm said...

Interesting statistical breakdown. I think women generally, in all professions, are lower on the salary scale than men.

Robin said...

I heard a lecture on professionalism in the art world last year, many comparisons were made to other professions, and your statistics prove to be a little more optimistic than the way things were put to me. I think being a professional artist is challenging, exhausting, dynamic, no matter what! In the love of making art, statistics don't matter, and sometimes the financial pressures make having that second "paycheck" job essential in order to continue. I think "starving artists" is fact not fiction for the majority.

Linda Roth said...

Great post. The statistics did read encouraging, but as my dad discouraged me from becoming a "starving artist" in the 50's and encouraged me to do something that could support me, I did the same for my children.

You can be a fine artist, but to make money 60-100 plus K a year, you've got to put a spin on it, e.g.the only mural painter in town, forging grand staircases, railings, architectural embellishments-- painting and sculpture on a the grander, commercial level. My beef with the fine art schools then, they were not very career, let's make you financially self-sufficient oriented. The emphasis was on the fine arts, less on the commercial arts--and those classes were limited to lettering and illustration--no animation, no multi-media, but automotive design. It's nice to hear curriculums have expanded. Going for a fine arts degree with only 30 studio credits left to finish, I gave school up. I decided the degree was useless in the money-making world. What wasn't useless was a remark made by an instructor who pointed out strongly that I was a designer. The remark validated what I had expected. And so I am, minus a fine art degree and student loan debt. (In the 70s when I went back to finish what I'd started, a credit hour was up to 150.00--I put the money towards my son's medical degree instead; I could paint on my own. Today the amount per credit hour is astronomical at the school I went too. I made the decision again to let it go--but I do hate unfinished business.

What you want to be when you grow up begins in grade school and high school. It's in the public school system that we need the arts and career talks of all kinds. Being responsible citizens able to support one's self is the main objectives of our educational
system. Great topic. Honey and I just discussed it. He thinks there's atiny handful of fine artists and a lot more artists making money in art related jobs--he casually mentioned being a layout artist for the phone book--a job I had been offered. He's a bit behind the times. Those jobs I would imagine are in jeopardy given computer programs that can do the same thing. --And there's another threat to real live artists not trained in computer programs.

Eva said...

I think your information is pretty much on target. I made my total living as an artist. Like an actor I had some great years and a few lean years, but I was never a starving artist! However, my high earning period was before the mass digital prints and the economy was booming.

Celeste Bergin said...

Great post, Kathy. I was a graphic designer for many years...the reason, of course, was pragmatic. In my heart I preferred a profession in the fine arts. However! I grew to love the advertising world (I was working with the best!) and I learned that communication art is beautiful "too" (so it was satisfying). My job paid very well back then, and today I use a lot that I learned in painting. I am fortunate, that a good percentage of my work sells, but I have a way to go before I can say it is "lucrative".
It distressed me to see that women don't get paid as much as men in the arts..but I am also not surprised. I wish that would change during my lifetime, but I don't hold out much hope.

Susan said...

It does involve a level of commitment. But starving? No. Even as a woman, no. However, I have opted to be a person who never let a romantic relationship interfere with my goals. When I actually read that, it makes me sound cold and career minded. Which I'm not.
To expand on what L.W. Roth said, I grew up in a time when women like her were starting to pave the way for girls like me. I never once thought that I would be anything but a person who would be able to provide for myself. . . by myself. And I never thought twice as to how I would do it. I just believed, and had the luxury to believe, that if I put my mind to doing something I could. Women of my age had such an advantage in that way.
However, my goal to make a living as an artist was compromised slightly into making a living as a designer, illustrator and/or art director. Only now am I starting to really pursue fine art.
Lastly, when I do show my fine art, I don't list myself as Susan, but as my nickname, Sam. When I explained to a woman friend of mine she was almost offended by the reasons I gave her, which is a topic for a blog in and of itself. However, when I asked her what was some of her favorite work at the group show, she said she liked D. Calloway because his photography was just so unique.
I then told her that 'D' stands for Deb.
You could have knocked her over with a feather.

Mark Sheeky said...

Interesting stats Kathy. Average earnings or anything else can be so misleading in art... what does an average artwokr look like?

T.Nara said...

Here is something that I hope will cheer those of you who worked so hard to remove the barriers women faced for so long and continue to face:

In the last few years I have noticed that when I show students the work of Miriam Schapiro and talk about using art to make people aware of issue like women's rights, they have a hard time understanding how it could be possible that women would not have the same opportunities as men. On Friday, I said "There was a time when girls were expected to grow up to wives and mothers and not have a career." They gasped and someone said, "That's just wrong." That someone was a 9 or 10 year old boy. In another class, when comparing Miriam Schapiro and Romare Bearden, the question was "How are these artists different". It took about 20 responses before someone said "One of them is a boy and the other is a girl." I told them I thought Miriam would be very happy to know that it took them that long to think of that difference.

Anonymous said...

I do not think its a all or nothing world anymore. I think artist are finding new ways of surviving no longer a make it or break it rule of thumb.

I think artist are finding ways of creating art and surviving doing other money making jobs related to but not exactly art making, but in that other job or endeavor I believe art might be better for it the jobs we take on I believe inform us in a different way.

Mary Paquet said...

Given the occupations included in fine art, I tend to think that the art directors, illustrators, multi-media artists and animators would raise the level of income. At least in Silicon Valley they make good incomes, not always so the fine artist producing paintings and sculptures.

Very interesting stats.

DynamiteJ said...

IT's interestating to view the facts, the large number of artists nowadays depends on the society pressure of make everybody special and people start to think that need a talent. Who can't be a singer or an actor, goes to plastic artist. The world is stimulating the creativity of everybody, it became a caos. Nowadays an artist can survive with another job and be an artist in free times, it's easier now I think.
nice post :D

layers said...

interesting numbers- I do think that women artists face the same cultural blocks that women face in other careers and jobs-- and when a woman also makes the decision to marry and have children-- well, it is pretty obvious what happens--