Survey of Artists Reveals that an MFA and Gallery Representation Won’t Make You Financially Secure

Posted by on Tuesday July 10, 2018 | Fine Art

The majority of artists aren’t earning a living from sales of their artwork, a new survey suggests. Instead, they rely primarily on freelance and contract work, or other jobs, to make an average of $20,000–$30,000 annually.

The survey, “A study on the financial state of visual artists today,” was conducted by The Creative Independent, a publication funded by Kickstarter whose mission is to provide support for artists and other creators. The survey reveals how rare it is for artists to earn a living from their artwork alone. It also suggests that having gallery representation or an MFA has little impact on an artist’s financial stability. Just 12 percent of respondents listed gallery sales among their top three income sources, and “being represented by a gallery is usually not a helpful way for an artist to pursue financial stability,” the report said. Art school was seen as helpful in developing an artist’s work, but “earning an art degree does not set artists up for financial stability,” the survey concludes.

More than 1000 self-identified artists took the survey. Of those, only 32 percent said they’d been pursuing art careers for more than ten years. Though people from 52 countries answered the survey, more than 75 percent of respondents are from the United States.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents reported making less than $30,000 per year, and 35 percent reported making $20,000 or less per year. Those who live in the U.S., however, reported making an average of $30,000-$40,000 per year.

Respondents were also asked to rate, on a scale of 1-10, their current financial stability and their prospects for becoming financially stable in the future. On average, the respondents felt neither stable nor unstable. The report also concluded that “most people feel fairly ambivalent about their ability to become financially stable in the future.”

According to the Creative Independent’s analysis of the results, several factors contributed to an artist’s feeling of financial stability. Race and gender were influential. Women and non-binary artists reporting below-average feelings of financial stability. Marketing is also a factor: Artists who spent three or more hours per work promoting their work felt less financially stable than those who spent 1-2 hours.

The survey data also suggests that artists have learned how to make a living primarily on their own or from their peers, not from school or other education opportunities. “Artists were most likely to credit their relationships and support network as top factors contributing to their financial stability,” according to the report.

Overall, the survey reveals that making art is a part-time job for the majority of artists.

Read the full report on The Creative Independent.

Related:

DISPLAYING AND SELLING ART IN UNCONVENTIONAL WAYS

WHAT I DIDN’T LEARN IN ART SCHOOL: LIFE LESSONS FROM PHOTOGRAPHERS

CAREER CHANGE: R.J. KERN MOVES FROM WEDDINGS TO FINE ART


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