At artnet news, Ben Davis writes in “Why You Should Be Suspicious Of The ‘Creative Economy‘” that 1,654 is the number of fine artists in New York who actually support themselves by making art. The rest have day jobs. Here’s an excerpt from his piece, which was prompted by the release of Creative New York, a recent analysis of “the health of Gotham’s ‘Creative Economy’” that paints a rosy picture by including advertising, film, video, and other more lucrative fields alongside the fine arts:
In general, the concept [of “Creative Economy”] is an unhelpful portmanteau, squashing together those who work in corporate advertising and entertainment industries (which have their own industry-specific trade groups, incidentally) with independent “fine artists” of various kinds….
I remember the first time someone told me that many artists with apparently thriving careers and gallery representation still had day jobs. It was the first of a very long series of realizations that the art world is at least 50% smoke and mirrors. At the time I felt an almost personal betrayal at the realization that artists I had already perceived as incredibly, unattainably successful still had to find another way to pay the bills.
If you have the resources, art school has a lot to recommend it. It may make you happier; it may make you better at expressing yourself; it may give you a network of like-minded people to sustain you creatively; it may teach you how to formalize and present your own creative ideas so you can teach them to others.
These are all fine things.
But even of the luckiest of the lucky, only a very few—1,654 in NYC, according to the experts at Creative New York, and 3,660 in the country as a whole, according to the government—will get the whole package, making a living off of their work alone.
For the most part, becoming an artist is not something one does because there is a booming “Creative Economy” that supports that choice. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something.
I understand what Davis is driving at, and the report on the “Creative Economy” is certainly flawed. But today’s art students, unlike students in the 1980s and 1990s such as Dalton, understand that selling their work is one of many strategies they will need to develop in order to support themselves when they graduate. Furthermore, Davis doesn’t mention that many recent art graduates and artists are gainfully employed in related creative fields, and that the majority are satisfied with their lives. According to a survey released by Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) last year:
Of the recent grads who have found employment, 80% say their first job was “closely” or “somewhat closely” related to their field of training, compared to 82% of less-recent grads. Even among those working in jobs not directly related to their field of study, arts alumni reported that their training was still relevant, having taught them skills and ways of thinking that were widely applicable.
This 2014 study is a valuable counterpoint to Davis’s depressing report. Even if, as Davis suggests, the odds are stacked against fine artists in terms of gallery representation and sales, attending art school certainly isn’t a waste of time and money. Most young artists will not become the next Jeff Koons, but neither will they starve.
[Image at top: Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio, 1881. Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine]
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