-ARTicle: My Quibbles with NEA Artist Salary Survey

"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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ARTicles page

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