Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Working After Art School | Open Thread

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (based at Indiana University) recently released a survey of art school graduates. According to the New York Times:
The results of the 2010 online survey include responses from more than 13,500 students who were in fine arts, theater, dance, music, creative writing, media arts, film, design and architecture programs and graduated in the past 15 or so years from 154 arts high schools, undergraduate and graduate institutions.

Although the respondents did not represent a random sample, the survey found that 92 percent of alumni who want to work are doing so (the unemployment rate for April in the United States was 9 percent), while two-thirds said their first job was a close match for the kind of work they desired. Fifty-seven percent are working as professional artists, but don’t be surprised if your bedroom doubles as your office. More than 6 in 10 were self-employed since graduation. Working or not, 9 out of 10 reported they were pleased with their art training, and three out of four would attend the same institution again.
The study has a handy dashboard at which you can drill a bit deeper.

Apparently, those who go to art school teach. Not surprisingly, more artists are employed within "Arts Education" than any other category within the arts. But outside the arts, the highest percentage of arts graduates also indicated "Education / Training / Library" as their occupation category.

Zooming in on graduates of Fine & Studio Arts programs, we see that 70% of the respondents in this category were female (which doesn't necessarily correlate to percentages in the classroom, but I do hear that there are more women than men in graduate programs).

The top three occupations for graduates of Fine & Studio Arts programs were:
  1. Fine artist (very reassuring)
  2. Sales related occupation (understandable when you know what it takes to sell yourself as an artist to the world)
  3. Food preparation related occupation (should Rirkrit Tiravanija be concerned?)
The breakdown for "Important Skills and Competencies in Profession or Work Life" reveals some interesting factoids. For example, the further along the spectrum ones goes from "Never a professional artist" to "Currently a professional artist" the more importance the respondents placed on artistic ability or technique. There is more of a disparity in importance on this factor than all others along this spectrum.

The other skill or competency that revealed a large difference of opinion was on entrepreneurial skill, with, again, those categorized as "currently a professional artist" rating it as much more important than those categorized as "never a professional artist." In fact, entrepreneurial skill was the single lowest rated skill/competency among those who had never been a professional artist. This makes total sense to me. There is no shortage of evidence that being a successful "professional" artist IS being a successful entrepreneur.

There were no surprises in where arts professionals choose to live...where the arts jobs are, clearly:

Screen shot from the The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project website.

Perhaps the most telling factoid, though, was that "44% of those have never been professional artists said higher pay or steadier income in other fields was a reason." It's not quite the same situation, I know, but a mentor of mine once told me that the LAST reason to go into the gallery business was to make money. There are simply too many other easier ways to do that. Personally, I believe the same applies to the artist business. If you're anxious about getting that money back quickly that you're spending going to art school, you might want to take a few law courses along the way.

Consider this an open thread on all issues "professional artist" and working related.

Labels: artist survey, artists careers, artists lives


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have to take the #1 "occupation" of Fine Artist with a grain of salt. I would like to see the question asked in this way...

How do you survive, as an artist?

1. Through sales/commissions/grants.
2. Day job
3. Family money (parents or spouse/partner)
4. Illegal activity such as drug dealing or sex work.

I would guess 2 wins handily, followed by 3, followed by 4, with 1 being very rare i.e. less than 2%.

5/10/2011 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

When I needed to make some money I became a freelance commercial artist. If you actually have skills, then they are transferable to any form of art or design (sometimes you need to learn how to use specifically different tools or computer programs, but the work is out there). The key factors in being able to use your art commercially are the two things they mentioned in that article -- skill and an entrepreneurial personality.

I voluntarily stopped doing commercial art a little while ago -- it gives you lots of money but no time -- yet now as a fine artist I have lots of time but no money -- oh the irony (though in my defense I haven't shown anybody anything yet -- which makes it a little impossible to sell -- LOL!).

Just working on that awesome portfolio of work.... we'll see how it goes.

(Oh, law is currently a saturated profession, so people may want to try something more promising if they want money.)

5/10/2011 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Winkleman Gallery's own Jennifer Dalton created a witty art piece a few years ago, "How Artists Live" (I think that's the name of it) in the form charts and graphs made in response to a questionnaire about how artists support themselves and their work. The results were compiled into a CD. While the piece itself is smartly and humorously executed, the information itself is pretty depressing. Those income pie charts show just a skinny sliver of artists supporting themselves from their work.

The upside to that depressing statistic is that when the economy is tight, or tighter than usual, artists are better able to handle it because we are so good at generating income from a variety of sources. We have many skills to fall back on--whether graphic design or art handling, writing or teaching, or such artist-specific skills as building stretchers or how to use Photoshop.

If I were running an art school, I would institute a two-semester course called Entrepreneurship. One semester would be spent learning basic skills: carpentry, Photoshop, how to move heavy loads, bookkeeping, negotiating, event planning, stuff like that. The second semester would be spent thinking about the ways to put those skills to the best possible use. When jobs are difficult to find, the best solution is usually to make your own.

I'm glad courses in professional practices are now being taught, but as long as there's more art being made than can ever be acquired, artists need more than good presentation skills.

5/10/2011 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Tibi Chelcea said...

Does anyone have a link to the actual survey questions? I don't quite understand what was asked in the "skills" part of the survey: how do the respondents rate themselves in, say, "leadership", or how important they think "leadership" is, or something else.

5/11/2011 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

curious to see these statistics in relation to any "profession" , is this exceptional for the arts, or the typical career graph for any occupation. I know what I first studied (industrial design) still influences enormously what I do on a day to day basis, but I can't claim it is my profession, and am not concerned that I don't.

Should one pursue being in the fine arts? A really intriguing blog on that as applied to photography is found here at:


the upshot after some hard hitting financials - is similar as Ed points out, being a gallerist isn't the way to become instantly rich. Seeing the reality of the numbers is eye opening.

"Just because photography is a bad business doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile pursuing." (from L Kim's post)

Knowing why you do what you do still counts for a lot in terms of being happy with your achievements or not.

5/14/2011 07:30:00 AM  
Anonymous lucy Mink said...

i am curious about this survey, what about all of the students who went to art school and never did anything with it (a large group of people i know from SCAD, that i went to school with ) they would never read an art blog, they don't go to galleries they would never know of such survey. I can't help but believe every art school has a population of students that just graduate and move in a totally different direction. I really am the only one out of most of my undergrad friends who went on to get an MFA and who continue to paint. I am just asking how was it distributed? I might have missed this part if it was in an earlier post. was it through Alumni depts? etc.

5/14/2011 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Mary Addison Hackett said...

I find it interesting that 30 grand seems to be the median magic number both within and outside of the arts, no matter what the specific occupation.

5/16/2011 04:10:00 PM  

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