an 80:20 breakdown on earnings

pie chart of art earningsBlogger and gallerist Jason Horejs, who runs the  practical-minded art-marketing website RedDot, posted the image at left summing up a survey he ran polling 1200 artists on how much they make. Less than one-third of them actually responded, so this chart represents some 400 artists out of a pool that almost certainly does not reflect the larger national picture, given that the surveyed artists (1) had to somehow know about this survey and (2) self-selected to respond.

That said, the figures are striking. Just over four-fifths (81%) of the artists reported gross sales of $24,000 or less, which after taxes would probably put all of them at or below the federal poverty line if it were their main job. (Some of the respondents were probably in fact part-timers.) Another 9% were in a pretty marginal category, making between $24,000 and $49,000 in gross sales. That leaves 10% of the pool saying that they earned a decent to excellent living north of $50,000 gross.

More interesting is what Horejs reports anecdotally from his discussions with artists: that the ones who are doing well are pricing their work at the “middle to upper” end of the market. It’s appears that it’s just not possible to earn a living selling art in bulk, as one would have to at lower prices. As one of the commenters noted:

“I did an analysis of my sales once ( I am not a full time artist, I have a day job and a family). I do pretty well selling my 30×36 abstract works on paper for $1200 each; after gallery cut, I make $600. To make a “acceptable living” I would need to sell 100 per year; that’s 8 per month; 2 per week. I dont know about the rest of ya’ll, but that is some heavy sales velocity. I once bought an hour session with an art business consultant and the first thing she said was I would never make a full time living with those prices. I need to ditch the works on paper and sell canvases, bigger ones, and jack up the price.”

Also interesting is the fact that despite those bleak numbers, a separate, smaller poll Horejs ran revealed that 67% of the 86 respondents believed it was actually possible for them to make a comfortable living as an artist. So: nearly 7 in 10 believe that they can earn a decent living as artists but only 1 in 10 actually does so. That’s a pretty severe disconnect between belief and reality.