A New Study Shows That Most Artists Make Very Little Money, With Women Faring the Worst

The myth of the starving artist is anything but a myth.

Sotheby's employees pose with Tim Noble and Sue Webster's $. Image courtesy Adrian Dennis//AFP/Getty Images.

The struggle is real. A just-released survey of international artists yields some dismal findings: In the US, a full three quarters of artists made $10,000 or less per year from their art. Close to half (48.7 percent) made no more than $5,000.

The report, titled The Artfinder Independent Art Market Report: 2017, was commissioned by Artfinder, and doubles as a pitch for that company’s online marketplace for independent artists. It was conducted by a-n, an artist information company which did a similar study specific to UK artists in 2013.

Based on data from 1,533 self-identified working artists in the US and the UK surveyed over the first three weeks of this month, the Artfinder report claims to be the “biggest ever independent artist income survey.” (UK income data is broken out separately, given the different currencies, but appears to represent roughly the same hard realities.)

Graphic from The Artfinder Independent Art Market Report: 2017. Courtesy of Artfinder.

“By and large, artists have a tough time,” Artfinder CEO Jonas Almgren told artnet News in an interview about the report. “It’s sad to say, but the starving artist syndrome is still very much there. It’s not easy to make a career as an artist.”

Even though the market is shifting in terms of artists getting more visibility through online and social media platforms, independent of galleries, “clearly artists are not making more money now than they used to,” Almgren added. “You have more supply and demand has not really caught up yet.”

Nearly half of the artists surveyed (47 percent) said their artistic practice accounted for less than 25 percent of their total income, according to the report. Circumstances are even worse for women: 83.6 percent of the female artists surveyed earned less than $10,000 from their art, as compared with 77 percent of male artists.

Top 10 cities for artists to live in: US (artists per 1 million inhabitants). Courtesy of Artfinder.

Top 10 cities for artists to live in: US (artists per 1 million inhabitants). Courtesy of Artfinder.

One surprising finding of the report was the geographic range of the cities the surveyed artists resided in. For the US, the top 10 cities where artists live include Miami, Portland, and Denver, with New York coming in eighth in the list. For the UK it was Cambridge, followed by Brighton, and Torquay.

While no analysis over time was done, Almgren took this finding as evidence of the shifting rules of the art game. In the past, he said, if you wanted to be a successful artist you pretty much had to move to London or New York. Now, because you can create your own presence online, he theorized, you see artists in a much broader geographic setting.

“This will of course have more of an impact over time but you can see how that is shifting the focus a bit and allowing artists to stay in areas they already live or perhaps where they’re inspired, whether that’s Colorado or New York,” he suggested.

Be that as it many, the Artfinder city ranking is a bit misleading. Miami may have three times as many artists per capita as New York, but New York (population 8.5 million) is also 19.5 times as large as Miami (population 440,000). In raw numbers, the Artfinder survey would suggest that New York has about 1,600 working artists, which is indeed very close to the official tally. Miami would have 250.

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