Feel Like a Number?

One of the ways your tax dollars are put to use is by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. This organization keeps data on thousands of occupations and provides details on such things as: Nature of Work; Working Conditions; Employment; Job Outlook; Earnings and more.

Here are what the BLS relates as Significant Points:

Significant Points
  • About 63 percent of artists and related workers are self-employed.
  • Keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance work; the number of qualified workers exceeds the number of available openings because the arts attract many talented people with creative ability.
  • Artists usually develop their skills through a bachelor’s degree program or other postsecondary training in art or design.
  • Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely; some well-established artists earn more than salaried artists, while others find it difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling art.

The BLS says employed artists usually fall in one of these categories: Art Directors, Craft Artists, Fine Artists (including painters, sculptors and illustrators)  and Multi-media Artists and Animators. Graphic artists and designers are not included in these categories. The descriptions and other information is interesting reading.

Regarding Employment, the stats from  2004 show about 29,000 fine artists holding down jobs among the 208,000 slots filled in the above named categories. The good news on the Job Outlook is work is growing. The bad news is more people are crowding into the field than needed to fill the growing number of positions.

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Here is what the information had to say specifically about the job outlook for fine artists:

Craft and fine artists work mostly on a freelance or commission basis and may find it difficult to earn a living solely by selling their artwork. Only the most successful craft and fine artists receive major commissions for their work. Competition among artists for the privilege of being shown in galleries is expected to remain acute, and grants from sponsors such as private foundations, State and local arts councils, and the National Endowment for the Arts should remain competitive. Nonetheless, studios, galleries, and individual clients are always on the lookout for artists who display outstanding talent, creativity, and style. Among craft and fine artists, talented individuals who have developed a mastery of artistic techniques and skills will have the best job prospects.

On earnings, the report provides this information:

Median annual earnings of salaried fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, were $38,060 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,990 and $51,730. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $68,860.

What is one to make of these statistics? Keep in mind Mark Twain’s comments, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”  Nevertheless, they do shed light on the the working lives of artists that are interesting. Hopefully, they provide motivation to make wise informed career decisions. Of course, I’m a champion of artists using the print market to help them broaden and even out their income streams. It’s why I wrote my book and continue to write this blog.

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A final quote from the report underscores my point: Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely. Some charge only a nominal fee while they gain experience and build a reputation for their work. Others, such as well-established freelance fine artists and illustrators, can earn more than salaried artists. Many, however, find it difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling paintings or other works of art. Like other self-employed workers, freelance artists must provide their own benefits.

As with any career, it is what you make of it. Even as I see the landscape changing for how art is marketed and the demand for it changing, I remain confident that there is ample opportunity even in a crowded market for those who are determined as they are talented.

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  1. Thank you for posting “Feel Like a Number?”. It is a most informative article. This type of information and statics are important to get out to the non-art world as well. The oppportunity for creative businesses (including the indivdual artist) are greater then ever. This group represents a vital business sector, one that is important to the present and future national and world economy.

    Individuals in creative businesses should see themselves as valid contributors to the economy. “Creatives” need to position themselves as such to the people and businesses they engage with in the course of marketing and building awareness of their work.

    Susan Fader
    Owner, Ditto Editions Fine Art Printmakers(
    VP Creative Economy of the North Shore (

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