Artists Guide: Making a Living as an Artist
Being an artist looks fun and glamorous, but the average painter, sculptor, and performance artist rarely get to live those eccentric lives we’re used to seeing on media outlets – or at least, most of them.
Sure, fine artists who show their work regularly in established galleries are more likely to earn more. They are established artists, so their work is recognized and highly valuable. Yet, that’s nothing but the tip of the iceberg as far as the kind of work and earnings other artists do.
Artists typically earn their living within four ways: commissioning works, selling finished pieces physically and online, teaching, or taking visual artist gigs for commercial studios.
Artists have also been made icons of poverty and struggling for centuries. But this is often not the reality of the situation… While starving or excessive wealth is considerably romanticized, people often make an adequate living out of the arts.
But let’s go back to the beginning of it all. Before earning an income, what does it take to make a living as an artist?
The Arts Industry
Let’s start with an introduction to the Arts Industry. The arts are not only valuable in and of themselves, but they also play a key part in countries economic success.
Take New York City or London for example, – the cultural capitals of the world. Arts and the Cultural Sector can have a great economic impact via expenditures and receipts from various activities. Like Broadway, Off-Broadway theatre productions, museums and art galleries, auction houses, shows and so on.
It’s a very profitable growing industry that attracts millions and can be linked to the Entertainment Industry, Technology and Tourism. By promoting the creation of new work posts, new businesses’ and constantly adapting to society’s needs, this industry is well adapted and there’s always space for new and upcoming artists.
Unless you want in on the rich and glamorous bit of it like Koons or Hirst… It might be harder to make a living like that then. Believe me, it’s not from lack of trying…!
Although artists may be exceptionally talented without formal education, most visual artists tend to pursue a secondary education.
Most artist’s academic journeys often include a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from an art school that is accredited by National Associations or Schools of Art and Design.
For art majors, being critiqued is part of their studies. Having feedback from peers or professors that still practice what they teach will get a prospective artist ahead. Art students also study art history and fundamental techniques of various creative practices, giving them an advantage, – regarding their knowledge of multidisciplinary skills.
Usually, the Universities and Art Schools provide great opportunities to show prospective collectors or future employers student’s work, by typically doing a degree show, a presentation of a student’s latest project, organizing talks and conferences, exhibition events, or by simply showcasing their portfolio.
What most people don’t know is that most artists have parallel jobs while making art. And that’s actually very beneficial. While taking in other job activities, artists can also gain other skills that are always favourable for future gigs.
Artists income can increase with each level of experience. Exposure and a diverse set of skills and settings make the artist more desirable and interesting to potential clients. It can also make you ready to take on different job positions, – related to your practices of course.
So, if you’re not making it as a full-time artist yet you can also consider starting a career as something else…
A background in visual arts may lead to jobs such as museum technician, conservator or art director, – a position that entails supervising other artists. Their salaries range from $47.35 per hour for those self-employed with five years of experience or more. Not bad, right?
According to the BLS (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), job demand for visual artists is expected to grow by a modest 1% between now and 2029. An estimated 300 new creative job positions will be created in addition to vacancies from retirements and job changes.
However, when the economy reaches a lower point, it will probably be more difficult for freelance artists to sell their work because potential buyers may have less disposable income.
Types of Artists
To pursue a career in the arts as nothing but an artist, there are various occupations you might want to consider.
With the right education, volunteer work, internships, and and art major, artists can find success in a variety of disciplines.
Fine arts, crafts, digital art, illustration and multimedia to name a few vocations. They’re all different types of visual arts. Ones more prestigious than others, but they’re all subcategories that fall under the Artist umbrella.
Traditional artists specialize in the design and making of handmade objects. These are typically sold to the general public through commissions, shops, online or dedicated craft fairs. However, established craft artists might have work showcased in museums and art galleries.
The role of a traditional/ craft artist is to produce original handmade works from a variety of materials, including glass, paper, fabric, metal, ceramics and wood. Perfect for those who like to create things by hand.
Illustrations can be the pictures used in magazines, books, calendars, and so on. This area is great for those who like to work with a wide range of styles, whether to create work for a fantasy novel, a diagram in a medical text or to draw portraits in courtrooms.
There are many different methods creators use to make illustrations. Some artists work for media companies or do their own freelance illustrations.
Illustrators work is usually based on commissions by companies or private bodies. There are agencies you can work in, publishing companies for children’s books for example, or you can also produce editorial or authorial illustrations for magazines or posters.
Multimedia Artists and Animators
Multimedia artists and animators create films, video games or other special effects for specific companies.
They may specialize in just one aspect of the production process, such as creating only special effects for movies or designing background graphics.
Some multimedia artists and animators do their work by hand, sketching characters on paper with a pencil; while others use only digital tools to create something like fully digital NFT artworks. These artists are usually hired to work for companies, however, most creatives in this do freelance work.
Now, the most “prestigious” one: Fine Art. Fine artists are often known for producing realistic depictions of people or objects. They usually specialize in paintings, sculptures or prints. These artists work with traditional materials like graphite, ink or acrylic paint; they may also use clay, stone or other classic materials too.
Fine artists work in all types of settings, including studios and outdoors. Formal training is not a requirement for artists because talent is innate (,- or not, but I’ll discuss that another time), however, and as I mentioned before, many artists do still prefer formal training to sharpen their skills.
Artists may sell their work privately, offer it through an exhibition gallery, or work for an organization that owns the rights to their artwork.
Most fine artists are self-employed by trade. Though many have other jobs on the side as well, it’s more common to see fine artists practising full time rather than other artists.
Salaries and Prospects
Artist’s Anual Income
The BLS does not break down data on wages earned solely through the sale of artwork. Still, according to their data, back in 2018, the average annual wage for fine artists is $53,400.
On the other hand, traditional and fine artists earned around 10% of a salary of $32,210. This means that 90% earned more than this amount. So, if 90% of the artist’s salary is $70,210, this can only mean that 10% of these artists earn more. In 2018, almost 60,000 individuals were employed in the fine art/ craft artist sector.
The state of the economy affects a fine artist’s ability to find work and earn enough money for basic living expenses. In an economic downturn, it is more difficult for artists to sell their work because buying art is optional.
The BLS predicted that the number of jobs available for artists would grow slower than average, with a growth of almost 10% from 2010-2020… But we were not expecting a sudden global pandemic… So now things are a little bit different, and if numbers were low before, right now they are at their ultimate low.
So here’s my advice to you considering the tough times we’re all going through; As a professional in this industry, if you want to make it as an artist and support yourself through your work, you need to balance a parallel job… Trust me, it might take a while until everything’s back on track again.
Disadvantages of being an Artist
Right, so we’ve discussed some of the most important options, prospects and requirements to consider before jumping in on the decision of becoming an artist and making a living from it.
Few artists are lucky enough to be born with natural talent that can lead them to a stable career and reliable source of income. But unfortunately, many artists spend years continuing their education or perfecting their skills only to find themselves searching for a steady paycheck from a different source of income.
Making a living as an artist is more about passion than it is about the benefits. And here is why:
The popular term “starving artist” became coined because most artists can’t support themselves through art alone.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports showed that only the most successful artists are able to live on their artwork. Back in 2010, you would only be considered an artist if your salary was less than $9.10 an hour and if you had at least one other job. Thankfully tho, now it’s advisable that you take on other side jobs, it helps you gain experience.
Artists looking to make a living off of selling their art often have to work very hard. They must take time out of showcasing their art in galleries, visiting museums to show their work, or working from home.
Multimedia artists who similarly work from home also need to put in about 50 hours per week and maintain creative and dependable reputations.
Lack of Support
Artist employment is largely impacted by the amount of charity that goes to the arts. Although charitable donations are declining, and while interest in this occupation has persisted and led to a larger window of qualified candidates, income levels have decreased.
This will lead to a continuous battle for prospective employees trying to get sponsorship grants or gallery display privileges after this year of economic recess.
Making a living out of this notable profession can definitely be challenging, it’s important to not lose focus. If you want to become successful in this field, you’ve got to be ready to face a lot of obstacles.
Learning to be a professional artist is about gaining natural talent that can be transformed into profit. For those who already make a living as an artist, it’s necessary to keep improving their skills each time in order to maintain their place in the industry.
The exposure to materials required for the job can potentially have harmful impacts as well. The BLS notes that although most studios are properly ventilated, artists should be careful about their daily exposure to paint and ink fumes which is a concern to have.
Always have a plan B or a side job with a more consistent pay that can both benefit you financially and in terms of acquiring skillsets that you can later use on your creative process. You’ve got to be prepared to accept badly paying jobs too, to gain visibility and exposure.
- Arts and the Cultural Sector can have a great economic impact via expenditures and receipts from various activities. It’s a very profitable growing industry that attracts millions and can be linked to the Entertainment Industry, Technology and Tourism.
- To make a living as an artisit, its not obligatory but getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from an art school that is accredited by the National Association on Schools of Art and Design, can be considered essencial.
- Artists income can increase with each level of experience. Exposure and a diverse set of skills and settings make the artist more desirable and interesting to potential clients.
- ine arts, crafts, digital art, illustration and multimedia to name a few vocations. They’re all different types of visual arts, – ones more prestigious than others, but they’re all subcategories that fall under the Artist umbrella.
- Most fine artists are self-employed by trade. Though many have other jobs on the side as well, it’s more common to see fine artists practising full time rather than other artists.
- According to BSL data, the average annual wage for fine artists is $53,400.
- Making a living as an artist is more about passion than it is about the benefits.
- Making a living out of this notable profession can definitely be challenging, it’s important to not lose focus. If you want to become successful in this field, you’ve got to be ready to face a lot of obstacles.