Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fine artists in decline in the USA?

Artists are part of the workforce - but are they in decline?

It's recently been reported in parts of the arts press that nearly two million Americans are artists (1.4% of the US workforce) and they earn $70 billion annually.

Wow!!! That's a very large number of people......and it excludes all those who list being an artist as a secondary source of income - that's another 300,000 people!
Artists represent a larger group than the legal profession (lawyers, judges, and paralegals), medical doctors (physicians, surgeons, and dentists), or agricultural workers (farmers, ranchers, foresters, and fishers).
These headline figures come from a Research report by the National Endowment for the Arts - Artists in the Workforce 1990-2005 (see right - for front cover). The NEA asserts that is the first nationwide study of 21st century to look at working artist trends and to provide detailed information about specific artist occupations.

Now - the reality is not all the 2 million artists are fine artists - and not all the journals that have highlighted this report have actually looked beyond the press release or at the numbers! However I've taken a look at the full report and the Executive Summary (both available as pdf files - see the end of this post for links) plus I've also taken a look at the latest information available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Below I'm going to highlight the NEA's view and analysis of
  • how many fine artists there are
  • what they earn - on average
  • what proportion are self-employed
  • where they live
  • which states have the highest proportion of fine artists as residents
  • where you can find most fine artists
I'm then going to contrast this with data from the Department of Labor - plus I'm also going to be highlighting a key finding which is neglected in the NEA's Executive Summary.....

You can maybe tell by now that I'm very fond of digging below the surface and any 'hype' and crunching a few numbers!

Of the 2 million artists identified in the report, ONLY 216,996 are fine artists, animators and art directors - a number which has DECLINED by 23% since 1990.

Artists in the Workforce assembled data from primary sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) averages for 2003-2005. The NEA states that this is the first attempt to study artists by using ACS data and that the study focuses on Americans who named an artist occupation as their primary job. They do not refer to the US Department of Labor's Occupational Handbook - which I have done and which makes interesting reading - if you like numbers! ;)

Unfortunately, in their report, the NEA do not define figures for those who classify themselves just as fine artists (ie painters etc). However I have found that figure for 2006 - so keep reading!

The NEA summarises basic facts about this group as follows - it tends to suggest that fine art is a precarious career. A general observation made about all artists (ie the 2m) is that a
rtists are underemployed – one-third of artists work for only part of the year.
  • they have a median age of 44. Fine artists are typically older than artists in other occupations. Only 26% are under the age of 35.
  • less than half the group (47.4%) are women
  • 15% are from minority racial or ethnic groups - although diversity increases to 25% for fine artists under 35.
  • 51% have a bachelor's degree or higher
  • around 30% work part-time (less than 35 hours a week)
  • slightly more than a third (37%) work part year only (less than 50 weeks)
  • Median income is below the norm for artists and the $43,200 median income of all other professionals.
    • In 2005 median income for fine artists, art directors and animators was $30,600 - only slightly higher than the $30,100 median income for the total labor force.
    • Men earned $37,800 and women earned $22,600 - that's a differential of $15,200.
  • 51.5% of fine artists are full year full-time workers and their annual income is $42,800
  • 55.6% of this group are self-employed - while 39% work in private-for-profit set-ups, 2% in government and 3% in private-not-for-profit organisations.
  • Only 6% were enrolled in school
Source: ACS 2003-2005

The single most important fact about this group is that the total of fine artists, art directors and animators is completely bucking the overall trend of growth and has been in overall and significant decline since 1990.

Table 1 in the main report details numbers across all the main categories of artists. Overall, numbers of artists have increased from 1.727m in 1990 to 2.05m in 2005 - an increase of nearly 19%. The report suggests that explosive growth of artists between 1970-1990 has slowed to an increase which now reflects national growth across the labour market (of 18.6%).

However, I could see that there were some very significant differences within and between specific occupational groups. For example, writers and authors have increased by nearly half in 15 years (from 133k to 199k).

All but two of the specific groups of occupational artists show an increase. Of the two groups that show a decrease one is fine artists, art directors and animators.
  • In 1990, there were 278,516 and in 2005 there were only 213,687 - a decrease of 65k or 23%. Added to the national growth in the labour market, if the figures for 2005 were 'normalised', they should have shown an increase to 330,000. In this context, the decline is of the order of over 40%
  • 47k were lost between 1990 and 2000 and a further 14k were lost between 2000 and 2005.
  • I'm speculating but I assume this category includes illustrators and animators and others affected by the changeover to digital rather than hand drawn illustration and animation - and that the majority of the impact has been felt in this field.
I was curious - so I started searching on the internet - and came across the content referenced in the next section!

Statistics and information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The , has a page on its website for its Occupational Outlook Handbook devoted to Artists and Related Workers which makes the following significant points - which I guess will have a number of people nodding in agreement.
Significant Points
  • About 62 percent of artists and related workers are self-employed.
  • Keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance work because the arts attract many talented people with creative ability.
  • Artists usually develop their skills through a bachelor’s degree program or other postsecondary training in art or design.
  • Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely; some well-established artists earn more than salaried artists, while others find it difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling art.
It indicates that artists usually belong to one of four categories (with designers being excluded).
  • Art directors formulate design concepts and presentation approaches for visual communications.
  • Craft artists create or reproduce handmade objects for sale or exhibition.
  • Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, create original artwork, using a variety of media and techniques.
  • Multi-media artists and animators create special effects, animation, or other visual images on film, on video, or with computers or other electronic media.
These are essentially the same groups as those highlighted by the NEA's group of "Fine artists, art directors and animators".

They then go on to make observations of
Only the most successful fine artists are able to support themselves solely through the sale of their works. Most fine artists have at least one other job to support their art careers. Some work in museums or art galleries as fine-arts directors or as curators, planning and setting up art exhibits. A few artists work as art critics for newspapers or magazines or as consultants to foundations or institutional collectors. Other artists teach art classes or conduct workshops in schools or in their own studios. Some artists also hold full-time or part-time jobs unrelated to art and pursue fine art as a hobby or second career
Bureau of Labor Statistics - Artists and related workers
As one might expect, opportunties for those embracing digital technology is brighter than for those who don't and talent and skills are expected to determine who do well in the fine arts, commissions and work exhibited in museums (although I do believe this understates the importance of self-marketing to a fine artist).

The OOH also provides a better analysis of the workforce.
Artists held about 218,000 jobs in 2006. About 62 percent were self-employed.
Employment was distributed as follows:
  • Multimedia artists and animators.......87,000
  • Art directors...........................................78,000
  • Fine artists, including painters,
  • sculpters and illustrators.......................30,000
  • Craft artists................................................8,800
  • Artists and related workers, all other..14,000
Of the artists who were not self-employed, many worked for advertising and related services; newspaper, periodical, book, and software publishers; motion picture and video industries; specialized design services; and computer systems design and related services. Some self-employed artists offered their services to advertising agencies, design firms, publishing houses, and other businesses.
Bureau of Labour Statistics - Artists and related workers. Employment
So now - artists (in the fine art sense) are down from 2 million to 30,000! It just goes to show what happens when you start to unpick figures!

I'd suggest that the group used by the NEA is too diverse to be aggregated for the purposes of statistical analysis. Fine artists need to be able to see the level of analysis available from the statistics provided by the Bureau of Labour.

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2007

Hourly rate wage profiles for fine artists in each state are available on the web here. These estimates are only for artists in employment and do not include self-employed artists. Bottom line - if you've been wondering how to ride out the recession and have been thinking about getting a job, this gives you an idea about which industries and states reward artists best - and worst.

Geographic distribution

Geographic distribution is interesting. The NEA reports suggests that artists tend to congregate in high numbers in the metropolitan areas - such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston.

On the other hand artists represent a high proportion of employed residents in certain states with
New Mexico and Vermont having the highest share of fine artists (see right)

The most interesting figures of all are those from the Bureau of Labor which relate to the individual US State projections of growth for the numbers of fine artists by state between 2006 and 2016. If you're interested take a look here! Select Fine Artists as the group from the drop down menu - and then press the button.......


Given that population tends to grow over time, a growth in actual numbers of fine artists of only 10% overall in the next 10 years between 2006-2016 suggests to me that a continuing overall decline in the numbers of fine artists as a percentage of the workforce is expected - and a shift away from existing metropolitan hot spots to places like Utah and Wyoming appears on the cards!



Anonymous said...

How interesting!
I would have expected Illinois (Chicago) to be in the top 10, but I guess not. I bet the increased use of internet has made location a little less important in the ever-shrinking "big picture".
Thanks for the food for thought!

Her Eye Zone Art said...

It is a very interesting study. The old phrase.."figures lie and liars figure" comes to mind.
While many aspire to making a living wage from their work, it probably is more true that many artists are supplementing their income with other jobs outside of the fine arts area and listing their profession as the job that provides the most income. It's a profession that is very difficult to verify. We're not even counting the artist's who paint for the love of the craft, rather than the money. The "arts" are always the first to suffer during economic downturns because fine art is a "luxury" item, often forcing the artist to get an additional job.
There are other factors too...lack of community resources and undervaluing of art on E-Bay and other similar sites that make it difficult for an artist to sell his or her work at a reasonable profit, without having to be of a factory mind-set; churning out paintings one after another just to survive.
It's a study that does deserve more attention.

Making A Mark said...

I'm afraid I've never heard that phrase before - maybe it's an American one?

This latest study certainly echoes some research which was done by the Scottish Arts Council some time ago - which I featured on this blog back in March 2006. See "Making their Mark" - an audit of visual artists for about this study.

Bear in mind lots of people do all sorts of things - not just art - as hobbies. However the subject of the studies are people who count themselves as professional artists and identify themselves in this way when data is being collected.

In other words I think that although the findings may be of interest to amateur or part-time artists it's not really about them unless their part-time art is also a significant part of their permanent income stream. However, for those aspiring to make the jump from amateur to professional it might provide some useful information - and give them pause for thought.

One final thought. Have you ever scanned the art history sites for all the paintings by well known professional artists from the past. The number of paintings often rank in the thousands. I don't think those artists would think of it as having a factory mind-set but I've noticed that those who 'get on and do' also tend to produce quite a lot! Artists who earn their income from their artwork certainly tend to think long and hard about how efficient and productive they can be..........

Anonymous said...

All these labels are very grey and nebulous. I guess there needs to be clear-cut definitions of "professional". Someone in my position (and I assume there are many) may be on the fence with respect to labels.

I sell my work and have numerous displays, exhibits, and booths over the course of a year. Website and blog, too. In business for 7+ yrs. Yet I do not make the majority of my income from art. (*sigh*) YET.

I consider myself a professional artist, but maybe some consider the % income to be the defining factor. Until a study comes along, I guess you can label yourself anything you want!

I agree that "churning out" of work is not necessarily a bad thing.

Making A Mark said...

I do so agree that labels are really difficult in this field. I think we all recognise too the difficulties involved in generating a decent income.

Art, like a number of other activities, is one which can be followed by everybody from hobby artists to internationally recognised artists with a multi-million pound annual income. However if you are analysing data from an occupational perspective - which these studies are - then you have to draw a line somewhere.

The line this study draws is what did you declare yourself to be on the census form. It's that simple!

Tracy - you sound very much like you might be one of the 300,000 people identified right at the beginning of the post for whom art is a secondary form of income.

It needs to be emphasised, as both the NEA and Scottish Arts Council studies do, that many professional fine artists do NOT make all their income from their own artwork. That's not being negative - that's just a fact of life. Many professional artists supplement their income with jobs in arts-related fields. Examples include teaching art, curating art, working in museums and art galleries. Others take work in other fields which allow them time and space to do their artwork. Jobs which provide the bread and butter/roof over your head income stops you worrying all the time about whether you can afford to try and make it as an artist for 100% of your working time. Or, some would say, stops you making the commitment to really going for it. There are all sorts of perspectives on what it's certainly not a question of passing exams!

To use an analogy, I guess what I'm getting at is that there are a lot of blokes out there who love their golf, who might dream of making it as a pro golfer, who may well play in and win competitions and beat all the players at their local club out of sight. The point at which they put sportsperson/golfer on their census return or tax return is when they make a serious commitment to 'being a golfer.'

What these studies are counting are the people who felt confident 'being an artist' and labelling themselves as such on their census return - even if they did also make some of their income from other activities.

Making A Mark said...

For further clarification on what 'being an artist' means when you complete a census return or survey.

These are the occupational codes and categories as identified in the Appendix of the NEA report Artists in the Workforce.

Artists in the Workforce
Appendix A.
Census occupation codes, 1990 and 2000

"Artists and related workers
(called “Fine artists, art directors, and animators” in this report)
2000 PUMS 260
ACS 2600
SOC 27-1010
27-1011 Art Directors
Formulate design concepts and presentation approaches, and direct workers engaged in art work, layout design, and copy writing for visual communications media, such as magazines, books, newspapers, and packaging
27-1012 Craft Artists
Create or reproduce handmade objects for sale and exhibition using a variety of techniques, such as welding, weaving, pottery, and needlecraft.
27-1013 Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors,
and Illustrators

Create original artwork using any of a wide variety of mediums and techniques, such as painting and sculpture.
27-1014 Multi-Media Artists and Animators
Create special effects, animation, or other visual images using film, video, computers, or other electronic tools and media for use in products or creations, such as computer games, movies, music videos, and commercials.
27-1019 Artists and Related Workers, All Other All artists and related workers not listed separately."

Appendix 2 identifies that as a result of the change in occupational codes in 2000 that
"Most of the new groupings include the same people who would have been called artists under the old scheme. Art teachers—there were about 21,000 in 1990—are no longer identifiable as artists because they are included in the new detailed category “Postsecondary teachers”..........Many of the changes reflect the increasing technology in the art world, like the inclusion of “Multi-media artists and animators” in the
“Artists and related workers” group.

Census data necessarily means that it's a measurement of what is happening at a point in time. Therefore Appendix 3 makes clear that the occupation data usually refer to the person’s job in the week before the interview or questionnaire. The information about income and weeks and hours worked refer to the job held longest in the reference year.

For decennial census data, the reference year is the year before the census (1989 or 1999).

For the American Community Survey data (which aims to eliminate the need for a long form in the 2010 census), the reference year is the 12 months before the interview. Thus, the ACS numbers refer to a rolling time period, while the census numbers refer to a fixed calendar year.

For all those who are still reading at this point, I guess the 'when push comes to shove' question could well be "What are you going to say your job is on the day you complete the census form in 2010" and "What is the job you held longest in the previous 12 months"?

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