Monday, November 07, 2011

The Big Artists Survey 2011

AIR (Artists Interaction and Representation) is the UK's leading professional body for visual artists and applied artists.  It's conducted a major survey of artists called the Big Artists Survey 2011.  The aim was to examine artists working conditions.

You'll recall that recently I've had blog posts - with an interesting discussion in the comments on each post - about:
Well this survey tried to find out what it's actually like being an artist in the UK in 2011.

See how what you do compares to what artists in the UK are doing.

Big Artists Survey 2011 - Results

Here's a summary of the results.  I've recast some of the headings to make them a bit more precise in terms of relevance for the artist and slightly revised what's been highlighted in bold to make this an easy read - and prompt you to go and read the survey report for more detail!  I've also included my own comments on the results (in italics) and critique of what this means for artists.

I do however recommend you read the full report.  Click this link to download the pdf file and read the Survey report summarising the results in more detail.

Background to the survey

This was an e-survey.  It received 1,457 responses (9% response rate relative to the AIR and a-n membership surveyed) from artists located across the UK who ranged from recent graduates to very experienced artists.

The artists responding defined themselves as follows:
  • 41% as emerging
  • 25% as mid-career
  • 12% as established
  • 23% did not define their career status
This is where I get techie!  My only comment is that the responses are self-selecting.  This is not a sample in the true sense of the word and therefore will not be representative of the pool of artists across the UK as a whole.  Before responses could be weighted to give a more accurate picture, the survey body would need to know rather more about the demographic profile of the membership as a whole.< Bottom line this means the results are very interesting but are not necessarily representative of artists across the UK.  However it's much better than knowing nothing at all!  My guess is that it leans towards the sort of artist more likely to use the services of AIR and a-n - the newly graduated and the "return to art after a break".   The survey probably under-represents the full-time professional artist of many years experience.

Read on to find out what the survey had to say

Income: getting paid for being an artist
  • Artists are entreprenurial and are developing a wide portfolio practice.  Basically artists work in a lot of different ways to support themselves as artists.  A portfolio income stream is normal for over half of the artists surveyed
  • Artists are increasingly taking up paid employment to support their practice.  
    • entirely self-employed artists has reduced from 72% to 50% in the last 2 years
    • more artists are finding they need to seek paid employment as well 
    • artists are more likely to become increasingly self-employed over time
  • Financial statistics illuminate the economical predicament for artists and how much of their overall income is earned from their art.  This should be required reading for all those who like to think that one day they'll give up their day job and make a living as an artist.
    • 57% of artists generate LESS than 25% of the income from their art practice.  
    • Almost a third of artists earn less than £5,000 from practice.
    • 9% of artists make no income at all or a loss.  Digital and performance artists are most likely to make a loss or no income from their practice.
    • The average turnover (before expenses) for all artists in the survey was £9,000
    • artists who are "established artists" occupy both ends of the income range 
Finance - planning for the future
  • the vast majority of artists have no private pension plans.  The report ponders on how artists are going to support themselves in old age.  I wonder how many of them have taken a look at the level of the state pension.  Do plans for old age combust if elderly parents' capital assets get spent on nurshing home fees?
Expenditure: paying for studio space
  • Almost a third of artists do not pay for studio space.  
  • 73% pay £200 or less per calendar month.
  • I'm thinking the low level of expenditure on studio space probably reflects the low level of income generated by most artists who responded to this survey.  However it would be interesting to know whether investing in a studio space actually helps artists to be more productive and generate more income.
Business: representation by a gallery or agent
  • Only 15% of artists are currently represented by a gallery or agent.  Of these:
    • 71% define themselves as "fine artists"
    • 23% define themselves as "applied artists" (Is this a euphemism for illustrator or commercial artist? Most of the active illustrators I know all have an agent)
  • Artists who live in London and the South East are less likely to have gallery representation
    • I'm not surprised.  The gallery scene in London is quite unlike anywhere else.  Even the professional artists I know who live in London seem to have galleries located outside London.  Is this because the galleries which cater for the vast majority of artists can't afford London rentals?  Some of the very highly rated galleries which artists want to be in are actually "out in the sticks"!
  • 75% of artists have an excellent or good relationship with their gallery or agent
  • Relationships between artists and galleries/agents could be improved in 4 key areas
    • more prompt payment of commission
    • improved promotion of the artist's work - shows/art fairs
    • better/more frequent communication between artist and dealer
    • more sale of work / less commission
    • Which seems to me another way of saying that galleries and agents need to be seen to earn their commission to keep the respect of the artist they represent.  Twas ever thus!
Marketing: Internet and social networking
  • Artists have increased their uptake of social networking and use of new media over the last year - there's an increasing use of websites, blogs and twitter
  • I'd say use of social media by artists might now be characterised as follows
    • it's now gone beyond the "early adopters" (all of us who were using the internet 5+ years ago) and the "second wave" (those who came along in the last five years) 
    • It's now reaching out to and being accepted by the "early resisters" - who hadn't initially seen the point - and now want to catch up 
    • but it's not yet reached the "deeply intrenched" and "technologically inept".  They're still in their bunkers and rather hope it might all go away if they ignore it!
    • As an observation, virtually all the young successful artists which I come across when reviewing exhibitions for this blog have a website.  By way of contrast, a significant proportion of older and more experienced artists are still reliant on their galleries to represent their artwork on the Internet.
Continuing professional development: artists' needs
  • over 75% of artists identified their professional development needs as including:
    • meeting commissioners and curators (which I guess means learning how to get in front of and make a favourable impression on a commissioner or curator with a productive result)
    • help in identifying resources/funds for projects (I'm inclined to think in an era where grants are drying up that a bigger concern might be about how to find a patron)
    • access to good practice documents (produced by AIR!)
    • attending networking events to meet other artists
    • getting an ongoing critique of their work
    • (to me these sound very like the professional development needs of emerging artists.  It would have been very interesting to have had a demographic analysis of the respondents for this question in particular and the extent to which they were young and relatively inexperienced artists)
  • artists like AIR and a-n services
  • demand for NEW services identified.  These include 
    • access to expert financial advice (particularly by emerging artists) eg 
      • business set-up, 
      • business budgeting/cash flow, 
      • pricing and estimating, 
      • tax matters/completion of tax return and 
      • loans/business finance
    • more limited requirements for access to legal advice
      • studio licences/leases
      • contracts
      • how to set up groups and organisations
      • copyright / IP matters
    • (coming from a background of advising business about a number of these matters my only surprise is how long it takes some artists to realise that "business is business" and an artist needs to get their head around what that involves)
Consultation with artists
  • three quarters of artists had not been consulted by a UK arts funding body (Hardly surprising given the structure of consultation and the way it normally works - no matter what it's about.  However there's nothing to stop artists communicating with those bodies undertaking formal consultation.  I'm guessing they didn't know it was happening or how to respond - or even that they could)
  • nearly half of respondents knew nothing about the "Turning Point visual arts network(Not surprising when you plug this term into Google as a search term and look at the results!  This network has an incredibly low profile on the Internet)
This is a useful survey.  It lacks a few questions which I'd like to have seen asked - see the surveys below for examples.  It's also not representative - but it's certainly better than not knowing anything at all.

Other Surveys of Artists

Those interested in how things have moved on in terms of a timeline might be interested to also read:


  1. I found this post very interesting, Katherine, even though I never heard of AIR (whoops, should I?). I find most people, including artists are reluctant to talk about the money side, how much they earn and if they can live off their art. Some even keep up the fiction of being able to live off their art while they are not. It blew my illusions a bit when I found out that even my art heroes earn peanuts from their art and live off partners or have another job on the side. I suppose there is very little hope to ever earn enough to pay the rent/mortgage from just painting...unless you’re happy to live like a student for the rest of your life. I would love to peek in other artists’ account books ....there must be some who earn a decent income. How did they manage that?

  2. I think emerging artists and hobby artists wanting to become more professional can sometimes have quite a few illusions about realistic income levels of full-time artists.

  3. Those illusions stem from the silence or the ‘make-believe’ of the professionals! Whenever someone asks me I will try to be truthful....but then non-artists do not take you seriously if you don’t earn a living doing it and think you have a nice hobby....There seems to be no right answer....;-)

  4. Spot on!

    I think as well there is the natural disinclination to talk about one's personal financial details - which is 100% understandable.

    However it would be very helpful if there were more "anonymous" case studies of how artists really earn their income and how much that is.

  5. Making a Mark is the place for it....;-)

  6. I've been having a think. I used to commission research and do it myself so I know a few things about surveys and case studies......


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