"Study Reveals Artists Have High Salaries" proclaims The Huffington Post.(ref)
HuffPo continues, "There was a time when becoming an artist meant devoting yourself to a starving, bohemian lifestyle....(but) The NEA 'analyzed 11 distinct artist occupations: actors, announcers, architects, dancers and choreographers, designers, fine artists, art directors and animators, musicians,...producers and directors' ....and what they found paint's the artist's dream as a surprisingly cozy reality."
HuffPo continues, "The median salary for artists is $43,000, compared to the $39,000 averaged labor force as a whole."
Yadda yadda. And so this is the media template for this study: wow artists are rich.
At least "Art in America" magazine looks at the study with a little skepticism: "The new study confirms the earlier findings and adds the news flash that artists tend to congregate in metropolitan areas, which --ask a New York artist-- makes the nominally higher median income of $43,230 less than comfortable."(ref)
Study reveals RUBBISH.
The generally accepted meaning of artist is a fine artist. Of course the average skews high when one includes "actors, announcers, architects, ...art directors... and animators, musicians... producers and directors." Hell, if I put Frank Gehry, Jay-Z, Steven Spielberg, Yoko Ono, Limbaugh, Couric, Leno, and any Pixar-animator into the pool, well the salary ~average~ will be just rocking high. Wooo I love my new penthouse view! Oh dear, my personal helicopter is late. The survey (page 10) lumps fine artists into the same subcategory as art directors and animators.(ref [PDF]) Art directors?
From what I've seen
(Wait, what have I seen? About 1000 of my 1200 Facebook cyberfriends are artists and I have frequent contact with about 80 of them. Some of my art-writing has been published. So hopefully I've got a little cred' on this topic.)
Now where was I?
From what I've seen, non-celebrity non-represented fine artists are either :
1) Adult children of money.
Mommy is a lawyer or some other big money exec who can afford to live in the city --or can afford to fund baby's staying there long enough to get the MFA. They might dress like ratty bohemians but their i-Gear costs hundreds. Profs friendly with key galleries shepherd them to getting group shows. Then they're young rising stars getting solo exhibits. These privileged few are the exceptions.
2) Working poor.
Self-insured multi-job dodgers maybe selling an art piece independently each quarter but struggling to pay student loans (for that nearly-obligatory MFA degree so many galleries expect) and studio space. The majority of art sales are in major cities and those living in the low-rent countryside miss out. To sell art, it remains usually-necessary to reside where the rent is profoundly high. Even in dangerous 'hoodz, enough floorspace and utilities to make city-scale art costs thousands. They grind along for a few years before either getting representation or having a big life-change and throwing in the towel.
So the non-succe$sful drop out of the sample-field soon enough. Only those who can afford to keep at being a fine artist --keep at being a fine artist.
I'll bet the director of the NEA a beer that such things weren't factored into the big study.
here's the study summary (PDF):
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