The Financial Life of Visual Artists
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The Financial Life of Visual Artists
3 July, 2018

It appears that a major part of visual artists today make less than $30,000 per year, according to a study by the Creative IndependentThe study, based on responses from 1,016 artists in the US, UK, Canada, France, and 50 other countries, analyzes the economics of being an artist.

Art by Liam Cramb

First of all, only 12% of respondents stated that gallery sales of their work have been helpful in sustaining their practices, and grants ranked low too. 61% mentioned that freelance and contract work is the key thing for supporting their art. Only 17% are making three quarters or more of their revenue from their art (with nearly half making between 0–10% of their income from their art).

Because of this myth of the ‘pure’ artist who is able to afford to live off of gallery sales, through grants, or some other mysterious way, we see many artists who feel like failures or sell-outs simply because they have to have a day job, take corporate work, or wait tables. If only art schools would better prepare artists for the business aspects of being a visual artist — including preparing them to overcome the debt they’re accruing from that very school — so many artists would be in better shape, and would stop being so hard on themselves when it’s really the system that’s failing them. ‘Trial and error’ is not really a great strategy for becoming financially stable, but that’s currently the most-employed strategy by visual artists. That needs to change.

Willa Köerner, the Creative Content Director at the Creative Independent

Most respondents state their financial know-how and advice are based on trial and error and talking to and observing other artists. The 63% of survey respondents with an MFA or other art-related degree said the degrees can’t help you become financially stable (still useful when developing work). Commissions, institutional support like grants and paid residencies, and direct sales are said to be much more popular sources of support than gallery representation.

Overall, this study demonstrates that we’re in a moment when artists can take control of their own lives and careers. The art world’s gatekeeper class is struggling to stay relevant. Knowing that the structures of the art world aren’t particularly helpful is a bummer, yes, but it can also be liberating.

It’s hard to support yourself as a visual artist, period. There’s no one tried and true method to make a living as a visual artist. And, you have to try a lot of things before you find a way to make it work. But, people are finding ways to make it work. And over time they seem to get better at it!

Willa Köerner, the Creative Content Director at the Creative Independent

You can find the full report here.


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Doba Afolabi Recent comment authors
Doba Afolabi
Doba Afolabi

Life of an artist to me is like selling your soul to a passion. Trying several other means to earn income may not fit in the psyche of a true artist whose mind and senses operate in a world different from the conventional. How do I cope with a system that bend me to a life of inevitable routine and servitude just because I need a morsel of bread from an employer who is absolutely devoid of any creative idea other than an opportunity of been a benefactor of scrupulous wealth which gave him or her an advantage over me… Read more »