It’s A Hard Smock Life

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 25 2014 @ 10:19am

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A new analysis of Census Bureau data indicates that art students have a mere 1-in-10 chance of becoming working artists. And that’s not all:

Most surprising was the lack of overlap between working artists and arts graduates. In the United States, 40 percent of working artists do not have a bachelors degree in any field. Only 16 percent of working artists have arts related bachelors degrees. Though arts graduates may acquire additional opportunities and skills from attending art school, arts graduates are likely to graduate with significant student loan debt, which makes working as an artist difficult, if not impossible. … Although there are 1.2 million working artists over the age of 25 in this country, there are only 200,000 working artists with arts-related bachelors degrees. The majority of working artists have median earnings of $30,621, but the small percentage of working artists with bachelors degrees in the arts  have median earnings of $36,105.

But Alexis Clements is skeptical:

Most reports about artists that I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a fair number) that are based on quantitative data are pretty fuzzy when it comes to the thing that many artists would love to know: How much money do artists make from their creative work?

Why is the data so imprecise? Because almost everything about the ways that artists work seems to defy typical practices for collecting labor and earnings statistics. By and large, it appears that labor statistics, like the ones collected in the American Community Survey, generally assume that most workers have a single or primary job that provides the largest share of their earnings and that job is comprised of a bounded set of tasks or modes of earning money — for example, if you say you are an auto mechanic, the assumption is that you earn most of your money fixing cars. But as many artists know, when you say you’re an artist, how you earn your money can and often does come from a wide array of sources — it could be sales or commissions, it could be royalty payments, fees for presenting work, or teaching in various forms, which many artists lump into their occupation as an artist. … All of this makes it really tough to understand what income really means for an artist when you’re trying to isolate their artistic earnings.

(Image from Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists)