The art income shock
by Robert Genn April 3, 2009 Dear Rodney, A recent Canadian study of the annual incomes of visual artists might have implications for other countries. The results are a shock to many. The study was based on research by Michael Maranda, an assistant curator at the Art Gallery of York University in Toronto, Ontario. Maranda paints a picture of poverty. Average visual artists' incomes in Canada, at $20,000 a year, are $7,000 below the national median. He figures we have 22,000 to 28,000 visual artists. He notes the widespread erroneous perception that artists live on grants. According to his study, only 34 percent ever get a grant. It seems that most artists receive their modest incomes from sales (54 percent) and fees (12 percent). The average visual artist works 26 hours a week doing studio work, supplemented by 14.5 hours on art-related jobs, and 7.6 hours doing something not related to art. Maranda's study finds artists as a group to be older and better educated than they were a few years ago, having an average of six years of post- secondary education. The real shocker comes with the revelation that the higher their education level, the less artists earn from their art. At the risk of being taken out and shot, I'm offering a couple of possible reasons for this. Highly educated artists may make art that is too sophisticated or esoteric for people to buy. Further, a formal education often gives artists a sense of entitlement that may hamper their access to or interest in the commercial gallery system. In my experience, the higher incomes are enjoyed by workers with previous design experience --ex-sign painters, illustrators, ad-agency people, etc. Further, immigrants with traditional art experience and the benefit of prior poverty frequently thrive. Estimating the average incomes of artists is like estimating the average incomes of golfers. Many at the low end don't collect a plug nickel, no matter how many birdies they sink. The Tiger Woodses at the other end nicely pull the statistics up to $800 a year. Further, guys like Maranda are way off base when it comes to grants. In my thinking, less than one percent of deserving artists ever get a grant. According to a study done by Grumbacher a few years ago, four percent of the population have paints and call themselves painters. That would make 900,000 painters in Canada. Maranda's respondent-driven sampling appears to include a high percentage of sophisticated duffers. Best regards, Robert PS: "We can categorically state that the primary funder of artistic practices in Canada is the artists themselves." (Michael Maranda) Esoterica: A key to the lousy fiscal performance of artists could be the low number of hours they apparently spend alone in the studio. A twenty-six-hour week is not enough. Forty is more like it. Sixty is better because you can start to get good at sixty. Show me artists who have put in ten thousand hours and I'll show you a chicken in every pot.