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Artists are getting poorer

Survey finds most earn less than £10,000 a year

A new survey reveals that most artists earn less than £10,000 a year Alice Achterhof

The majority of artists in the UK earn less than £5,000 a year after tax—and below $10,000 in the US—according to a survey of 1,533 practitioners, conducted this month by the online artist-to-market website Artfinder.

Dubbed the “Artist Income Project”, this first survey of anonymous data across several platforms, including Artfinder, finds “artists are still not paid fairly. Or at all.” All the surveyed artists are described as “independent”, meaning they sell their art directly, rather than through a gallery.

In the UK survey of 823 artists, 55.1% say they earn between £1,000 and £5,000 net per year while 17.7% earn between £5,000 and £10,000. At the raw end, 9.3% of UK artists state their income as zero. This combined figure of 82.1% is worse than the findings of a previous survey of 1,061 artists, conducted by a-n, an artist data company, which in 2013 found that 72% of artists earned under £10,000.

Of the US respondents, 75.2% make less than $10,000, with the majority (48.7%) in the $1,000 to $5,000 bracket; 5.1% in the US stated their income as nothing. Based on the 98% of artists who stated their gender, female artists across both geographies fared marginally worse than their male counterparts: 83.6% earned under £10,000 (versus 77% men).

This survey may only be a small slice of the whole, but its findings ring true, says Rob Pepper, the recently appointed principal of London’s The Art Academy school—and a practicing artist. “I used to believe that winning prizes was a mark of success for an artist but am now of the opinion that simply living as an artist is the greatest achievement,” he says.

Artfinder’s data is a part of a global survey of 10,000 of artists on its site, of whom almost half (47%) say that their artistic practice accounts for less than a quarter of their income; 15% say they work full time jobs while also selling their art.

Pepper says The Art Academy’s forthcoming Bachelor of Arts includes a professional development module that covers additional income streams for artists, including making limited edition works and teaching.

The situation is not particularly better for artists who sell through galleries, Pepper says. “One friend told me his sales target for a one-month show was £100,000. This is enormous pressure, plus his gallery only gives him a show every 18 months at best. Take off gallery commission [usually 50%], VAT, then studio costs in London over two years—you’re not even making £10,000.”