It’s clear that the cost is not (yet) driving young artists away from getting educated at M.F.A. programs. It might be that no one studies art for the financial returns: Even as auction houses break records—Peter Lik’s photograph “Phantom” just went for $6.5 million—resale royalties for artists in America have yet to be legislated. Then there’s another common saying: that artists don’t need to get rich because they already are rich. Looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Planet Money reported that artists do tend to have wealthier parents.
One piece of the puzzle might be that for those who choose this career path, the act of becoming an artist is an achievement itself that’s worth a lot. A group of sociologists took a look at what it means to be an artist, and wrote this in the conclusion of their study: “Seeing oneself as a professional artist is an achievement that compares to entering other elite status groups.” With artists being only 1.35 percent of the U.S. workforce, it’s a small group indeed.
(Chart via BFAMFAPhD, which captions: “Y-axis shows the number of graduates each year. Height of bar indicates increase or decrease in graduates each year.”)