It's all but impossible to earn a living as a working artist, new report shows


People who graduate with a degree in the Arts generally have to deal with high debt and low prospects for earning a sustainable living as working artists.

That's the big takeaway from a new report from BFAMFAPhD, Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists [PDF]. The short version: “the fantasy of future earnings in the arts cannot justify the high cost of degrees.”

You can interact with the data used to produce the study here.

More at Hyperallergic.

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  1. Frankly, it's always been all but impossible. There were the odd painters or photographers through the years, but when was the last time you ever heard of a poet being able to support themselves?

    Immediately after the closing of his masterwork Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass went back to driving a taxi. You'll always have your odd Banksy or Hirst, but the reality is that in just about any artistic field if you do not come from money you'll have a day job that, if you are lucky, has something to do with art.

  2. True, but that cuts across all degrees. Headline should read something closer to "It's all but impossible to earn a living working in the field that you got your degree in."

    My parents rail against people who live "off the system" and how their home value has fallen because nobody is buying homes and compare things to their starter home, when the reality is that nobody's buying homes because they're 100K in the hole getting out of undergrad compared to the $5,000 tuition bill that my parents faced.

  3. It's never been particularly easy to make a living as an artist, and a degree has little relation to whether a person does so or not.

    One of my coworkers is an amazing artist, has a degree in Art, and has not been even remotely interested in showing his (incredible) art in a commercial sense in decades. He just keeps producing for his own reasons and filling his storage locker. Someday there will be a jawdropping show of his stuff, but not likely while he is alive because he has zero interest in sharing it.

    Art is a goal in itself, making a living is at best a side benefit. That said, I do know a couple artists who are making unreal amounts of money, but they are working within media/industry (i.e. animation at the top end of a studio). But the art world seems to smirk at people like that, at least in some circles, so I don't know if they qualify.

    The credentialist insanity of our current education system is another issue that definitely bears discussion. Easily 60% of people attending university/college are only there for lack of a better idea, and because of social and family pressure. I am saving to help my kids go if they choose, but I will not be pressuring them - there are a million ways to earn a living, and enduring 4+ years of classes that do not interest you is not the best way from A to B.

  4. Most well-known artists had classical art training. Not necessarily college degrees, but some kind of formal education in their respective media. Even the ones who "broke the rules" like Picasso and Mondrian and Warhol and Pollock first mastered figurative art using traditional materials.

  5. "You're wiring up that dam just the way The Man wants you to! Think outside the box with your wiring, green is now the hot leg! Power to the people!"

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