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This paper used compar­ative data as a backdrop to a commentary designed to illuminate a discussion on whether there are Too many artists?’, raising a range of issues, questions and (mis)perceptions — in part about the role of artists in life in general and impact of state inter­vention and arts policy-making in particular.

As one may come to various conclu­sions about such an issue as too many artists’ within the visual arts per se, as part of my inves­ti­ga­tions for this presen­tation I inter­viewed some of those working with contem­porary musicians and writers — do they agree/​disagree with such a propo­sition and what are the issues for their practitioners?

However, this is not an exhaustive study but a bit of a whistle-stop review designed essen­tially to raise questions, promote debate and encourage lateral thinking about value and measurement of artists: consider it to be a work in progress’. 

Issues of over supply’ (or under­em­ployment) in the arts overall are not new in being raised. 

In 1992 economist Ruth Towse commented in her report : In many developed countries it is widely believed that there is an over supply of artists although the concept of over supply is very difficult to define.….Concern has often led to moves to restrict HE places. However if demand is strong (and increases the pool of talent) it is not in society’s interest to do this.” 

Her assertion that having choice — to study art — super­sedes any premise of market driving the number of places/​coursesraises the legally-enshrined requirement of equality of oppor­tunity. A civilised society is one that seeks for higher education to be more widely available to all those who wish to partic­ipate, regardless of whether there is an economic case for their doing so. And in the neo-liber­alist culture of nowadays, notions of self-deter­mi­nation and self-employment is an under­pinning philosophy. 

Numbers of artists

The 1977 unpub­lished Gulbenkian Enquiry into the concluded there were at least 20,000 profes­sional artists” in Britain. 

If there were around 20,000 artists in 1977 — and these would have been fine artists painters, sculptors rather than the more broadly-based defin­i­tions we now have of visual arts practi­tioners — what were their labour markets’? Second careers such as teaching provided the main subsidy. Many artists are very poor and live on state benefits, but many are not poor and some are very well off”. 

Artists who gained their recog­nition from publicly-subsidised gallery exhibi­tions generally earned less than those who operated within commercial galleries, who enjoyed higher level of sales income. Income from grants made a very small contri­bution to overall earnings. Many artists signed on’ – with all that this entailed. In 1977, none of this market evidence’ seemed to prevent growth in those joining the arts profession. 

The impact of the inter­ference of the state on arts and arts markets is something I will come back to later. It was estimated that in the mid 80s the annual value of UK art sales was £40 million – this would be the equiv­alent to £101m nowadays. However, it is said to be more like £3.08 billion (thirty times larger). So could there be any corre­lation between this vastly increased figure and growth in the number of artists whose endeavours underpin the art world? 

The 1990 Census showed a 34% increase in the number of individuals with cultural occupa­tions between 1981 – 1991 and a 71% increase in the category that included artists, which contained the largest constituency — far more for example than the categories for writers, actors, musicians. 

When in 198788 I was conducting my feasi­bility study for the National Visual Arts Infor­mation Project, I noted the expected growth in student numbers through devel­opment of part-time and specific courses. Polytechnics expected 7 – 10% growth in student numbers over the next three years….many full-time courses are now shadowed by 5‑year part-time BA courses. There is an also an increase in MA courses…” 

It should be noted that my study was designed predom­i­nantly to make the case for an alter­native to the tortuousness/​expen­siveness of arts mediation and enable artists to be at the centre of the engagement and interface whilst earning direct income from sales and commis­sions and from their image-based IP

Whether the new art school courses were invented by HEIs to preserve teaching posts (many of which provide invaluable second income’ and also validate an artist’s practice within peers) or a result of demand’ from early retirees (for a fulfilling second career), or those wishing to extend an existing quali­fi­cation or other I cannot tell. But suffice to say, such scope and volume of art school courses does not seem to be peculiar to 2011

In 2006 and in the midst of the better’ years of Labour, an Inquiry was set up to examine the markets for art (and thus calcu­la­tions were made of the numbers of practi­tioners). Evidence from a‑n and VAGA to this Culture Media and Sport assessed the number of artists to be between 4060,000”. Although the Census defin­ition artists, graphic designers and commercial artists” was deemed too broad and woolly to be useful, there didn’t seem to be huge enthu­siasm for arriving at an accurate defin­itive number. Did this matter? And if so, to whom? How for example did HEIs address and quantify for their students the potential for what they now call employ­a­bility and entrepreneurship”? 

According to a‑n’s continuous monitoring of data, in 1998 some £2m worth of work was openly offered to artists. As a 2009 adjusted value, that would equate to £3.7m. However by 2007, the figure on offer was actually £27m (more than seven times larger), suggesting that the growth in the volume of artists was at that point well catered for by substan­tially increased budgets and fees on offer. The Morris Hargreaves report (2004) indicated an enormous potential to enhance sales of contem­porary art to new purchasers and collectors’ – if only the art world’ would forego the tradi­tional frame­works that filter supply” and control the demand” and thus have the effect of maintaining the poor/​rich balance for artists. 

In 2011, as part of an analysis of access to and take-up of grants from the UK arts councils by artists, Dany Louise produced calcu­la­tions of the number of artists in the UK — providing a range of 26,50030,500 — some 13 more than the calcu­lation in 1977, but fewer than the calcu­lation in 2006

  • England: 20,00022,000
  • Northern Ireland: 1300 – 1700
  • Scotland: 3250 – 4250
  • Wales 1950 – 2550

Total estimated volume 26,50030,500

So are numbers levelling back’? 

Until now, we could have estimated that some 4,000 newcomers (from under­graduate courses) were entering the job market from art and design courses annually. But what will the antic­i­pated 27% drop in student appli­ca­tions next year do the size of artists’ labour markets? Are we worrying unduly in the bad times’ about numbers of artists when every­thing is about to change anyway? Will the UK experience a drop in artist numbers as Australia already has, this not inciden­tally having been attributed to an economic recession? 

What is an artist?

UNESCO defines an artist as: 

Any person who creates or gives creative expression to, or recreates, works of art, who considers his/​her artistic creation to be an essential part of life, who contributes in this way to the devel­opment of art and culture and who is or asks to be recog­nised as an artist, whether or not bound by any relations of employment or association.” 

The term artist is largely self-defined — and why shouldn’t it be if we as a nation believe in freedom of choice and equal access in terms of study and employment? None of us — I suspect — believe in restrictive practices or cartels’ that are unfair and margin­alise sectors or people. That The Office of Fair Trading under the Compe­tition Act inves­ti­gated use of recom­mended rates of pay in the arts in 2006 is pertinent. Although this was designed to open up what might have otherwise been perceived as a closed shop’ in actual fact — by causing ACE and others to remove any semblance of good practice’ about payment from their terms of reference and infor­mation sheets — it had the effect of increasing the potential for exploitation of artists and freelancers and thus of increasing their poverty. 

Frey and Pommerehne’s (1989) defined someone as an artist by: 

  1. the amount of time spent on artistic work
  2. the amount of income derived from artistic activity
  3. reputation amongst general public
  4. recog­nition amongst other artists
  5. quality of artistic work – as defined somehow
  6. membership of a profes­sional body
  7. profes­sional qualification
  8. subjective self-evalu­ation of being an artist

The eight areas by which an artist may be recog­nised as such includes amounts of income but as we have already found, this is a poor yard stick in the UK, whilst quali­fi­cation (especially if PhD) and peer recog­nition are more readily acceptable. Lack of interest amongst artists for labelling themselves profes­sional’ also applies. A profes­sional (in other profes­sions) is usually defined by a combi­nation of quali­fi­cation and income earning. 

Wikipedia says: An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activ­ities related to creating art, practicing the arts and/​or demon­strating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practi­tioner in the visual arts only. In other art forms the term is more closely defined – writer, actor, playwright, musician, and poet”. 

The word profes­sional’ tradi­tionally means a person who has obtained a degree in a profes­sional field ….or a person who in a field typically reserved for hobbyists or amateurs. 

In western nations, the term profes­sional artist” commonly describes highly-educated, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy consid­erable work autonomy, a comfortable salary, and are commonly engaged in creative and intel­lec­tually challenging work. In (1996) it was suggested that an artist may be recog­nised as: 

  • A maker of unique works of value sold via the art market
  • An animateur encour­aging the creative expression of others
  • A public servant working to commission
  • An economic unit in tourism/​small business/​entre­pre­neurship
  • An educator deliv­ering national curriculum/​art school teachin
  • An initiator in arts/​social policy – producing arts projects, regen­er­ation, community well-being, (we would place the Cultural Olympiad here)
  • A visionary and social conscience, political activist

Thus, defin­i­tions by 1996 of an artist had veered radically away from the Gulbenkian Enquiry’s. I would posit that this is due to the greater inter­vention of the state in the markets for art, with its endeavours aided and abetted by the addition of income to the arts from funding sources’ such as the National Lottery, there to support good causes’ and the public good’. Such resources have increased the instru­men­tality of art and artists, placed them in the role of service industry and largely sidelined any notion of art for art’s sake’, consid­ering this as namby pamby and imprac­tical; get a grip, artists need to join the real world. 

However in the House of Lords in 1998, Lord Clancarty (himself an artist) questioned the very principles under­pinning the state’s support of the arts: But what about those artists who of or choose not to operate in a commercial sense, who are engaged in long-term, life-long independent’ research – what in science is termed blue skies research’ which is extremely important for the arts. The long-term broadly non-commercial situation is a reality for the great majority of UK artists. Extremely successful artists are the exception rather than the rule.” 

There is perhaps a perversity borne from our mixed economy for the visual arts — the public-private finance initiative that predates the Labour policy in this respect — that the blue skies’, is what sets us apart. Artists do not need clients or patronage to make art – in fact artists often view such instru­ments as constraints and hindrance to the purity (artistic autonomy) of their practice. 

Looking at the music industry where the growth of musicians — individual and ensemble — has been great, money forms a core aspect of the career progression. Musicians talk about money — negotiate fees and terms themselves, getting (for example) a share of the ticket income and promoting their CDs in the intervals (with the venue taking a sales commission). Defin­i­tions of quality are multiple – as viewed in the eye of the (various) beholders’ 

Are there too many musicians and bands? It can be shown by analysis that people who make music are a vital part of paying audiences whether of downloadable music or seats at events. There are good, excellent, mediocre and OK” musicians across the contem­porary music scene — all putting out their stuff, self-managing, self-promoting, and self-producing. It’s how it is. New forms of distri­b­ution of music are welcomed as they increase audiences and buyers and ensure the music industry is less reliant on public subsidy (and thus more autonomous). 

In 1992 economist Ruth Towse pointed out that: “….risk taking behaviour is the cause of over supply. It comes about because artists overes­timate their (average) chances of success prior to entering the labour market. Artists being for the most part self-employed decide whether or not to continue to work in their chosen field according to their realised net profits or incomes. Oversupply of the works they produce would result in low prices, but if they are willing to accept low incomes they can continue in full time [studio-based] work”. 

Looking at the world of contem­porary writing, reveals that there has been an exponential increase in the last ten years of the number of creative writing courses on offer — indeed in the notion that writers need quali­fi­ca­tions in order to write. According to agency New Writing North, more and more titles are being published but fewer of each title are sold. 

New self-publishing’ mecha­nisms means that no one has to make you a writer” and the historical quality control’ attached to a writer’s agent and publisher has dimin­ished. And whilst the self published was largely dismissed in its infancy by the literary industry, the tradi­tion­alists have now come to realise its potency – within liter­ature at least. In my mind, this is an inherent and necessary condition of the deinsti­tu­tion­al­i­sation’ of the 21st century. 

Markets for art practice

Writing in in 2002, Conrad Atkinson commented: Not all of us make corporate art, not all of us think art should shock the middle classes, not all of us are more inter­ested in our own blood than in the blood of others dying in other parts of the world. Perhaps art can’t really make a difference but it can highlight alter­native ways of seeing and living.” 

It is said that since the mid 80s it has not been possible for writers to make a living from their work — some 85% have other jobs” — that may include arts and non arts related work as is the case with visual artists. 

In The Visual Arts Survey, London Institute (1990)

  • 25% of artists said sales of work were their main income
  • 21% gained their main income from commis­sions and public art
  • 19% from teaching (FE/HE)
  • 8% from residencies

In 1996, a survey conducted for the NAA (National Artists Associ­ation) gave these statistics: 

  • 20% of artists said teaching was the most important income
  • 19% said residencies were the most important income
  • 18% said commis­sions and public art were the most important income
  • 14% said selling was the most important income

These 1996 figures provided a clear indicator that growth of interest in being in the visual arts was not commen­surate with income acqui­sition. Artists were seemingly quite prepared to manage on less money whilst the cost of living rose. 

If the more recent a‑n and AIR Big Artists Survey findings are correct and the average turnover artists made from art practice in the last year is £9,000, then artists are either making quite a lot more from non-art sources, being financed by a partner/​family (similarly to the 1977 Gulbenkian Enquiry findings), managing to sign on’ (unlikely) or using some other means to put the bread on the table. 

Although the 1996 NAA survey found 37% of artists to be gaining their work from art policies that fostered instru­men­tality or art services’, The Big Artists Survey in 2011 – perhaps because of the larger sample size or because of the greater diversity of types of work now under­taken – found this services’ area of work to be the regular or occasional role for around 24%. 

Is the current concern’ about the size of the artist constituency due to declining public sector markets? Is this situation the fault’ of artists? Does it make them worthy candi­dates for exter­mi­nation’ or any other method one might wittily choose to reduce numbers to the size the art market can stand? 

I’d like though here to raise an issue I fairly cursorily examined a few years ago. Should there be a redun­dancy process available to artists? Because the majority of artists are self-employed, how otherwise can an artist leave’ the profession if they are no longer practising or making work to their own required profes­sional standard or have taken on a different occupation (that they may not recognise as having supplanted their artist role)? I have witnessed some members of artists’ studio groups complain about certain spaces being wasted: full up with stored old’ work – let to artists who have in fact become something other than an artist – a full-time art lecturer or manager, director of an arts (or artists’) organ­i­sation, someone now running an arts business such as a gallery that is showing and framing other artists’ work. 

A route for such artists who are no longer practising as artists (non practising artists) could be to take redun­dancy – to leave the profession grace­fully. A redun­dancy package may, for example, acknowledge an artist’s length of service, their altruism to the arts and to the profession; allow them to draw a line and move onto something else. It might prevent the dilution of quality and profes­sional recog­nition that others in this debate allude to, and minimise the impact of too many artists’ on the profession as a whole. 

A self-deter­mining practice

Artists tend to select self-employment because (as Whitmyer, Rasberry and Phillips said) it is a statement about what you are and all that is important in your life”.

  • 7% artists on Enter­prise Allowance (1990)
  • 76% of makers self-employed/sole traders (1990)
  • 41% self-employment in creative indus­tries as whole (2009)
  • 72% self-employment amongst artists (2010) drops to 50% (2011)

When I started out an artist, there was no suggestion of self-employment — it just wasn’t something anyone like me did. We did a bit of part-time teaching or we signed on – in 1980, the latter was what nearly all the artists in my studio group did to get by. 

It was the 90s and the Tory Enter­prise Allowance that moved artists towards self-employment — before then, surveys did not include the differ­en­ti­ation between employment and self-employment. (Nor inciden­tally did it suggest anywhere that the longer the practice, the higher price that artist may be able to command — this was felt to be anti equality’ or downright unfair.) 

I went to art school — I discovered recently by reading a second-year note book — because I wanted to explore the role of the artist, not because of any expec­tation that I was employable or that anyone would offer me a job after­wards. I had no idea I’d acquire social research, writing and editing skills nor bring my creative problem-solving skills and entre­pre­neurship to bear on the non-profit company I now lead. As I commented in a recent lecture , In many situa­tions, the artist kind of falls in love’ with their occupation and whole­heartedly embraces all that this involves. And as Bob Dylan said: You can’t be in love and wise at the same time’.”

In 2011, new graduates say that what they want to know about is things like contracts, how to set up as self-employed and other business-like’ skills – as well as about how to locate and generate peer networks. Note they aren’t yet saying this whilst students, but once they have graduated and probably have huge amounts debt to deal with. 

Supply and demand?

Quoted in a Q‑Arts publi­cation, Derreck Harris has put another slant on over supply’, commenting that there are More fine art courses per capita in UK than anywhere else in the world – more than Europe and North America where there are well-estab­lished art markets partic­u­larly Germany and US.” So it should come as no surprise that the Creative Graduates: Creative Futures report in 2008 said that: One third of artist graduates earn £15,000 or under a year, less than the average starting salary for a new graduate across disci­plines. Artists often already subsidise or co-fund their own projects.” 

So is the debate about too many artists’ because there is not enough work for them actually a swipe at the mercenary or cynical attitudes of univer­sities with their uncaring attitudes to employ­a­bility? Given that artists continue to be heavily reliant on HE income (according to a 2011 survey by AIR Artists Inter­action and Repre­sen­tation 69% teach or lecture to some extent to provide profes­sional income), would the aim of this debate about too many artists’ be to the number of courses on offer and by doing so to deny these artists a worthy income? 

State inter­vention in the arts

State inter­vention …is not neutral … it has radically affected what art is, how it is under­stood and how it is practiced.” Thus concluded Dr Nicholas Pearson in 1981. He asserted that state patronage was developed because Art’ was deemed to be morally good:“ He quoted from the (1868), that had said: No one expects the whole of the working class to at once take up drawing and entirely denounce strong liquor”. 

One of the arguments for setting up what later became the Arts Council of Great Britain was the fear of what would happen to the visual arts if left to the vagaries of the market place… in the hands of those (who had not got taste’).

Historical assump­tions for setting up state support of the arts as delivered by the Arts Council(s) include: 

  • The difference between high art and culture and anything else
  • Fine art is important but very fragile
  • Quality fine art is generally found in London — this is still felt to be the case and regardless of any attempts to change it is ever thus a perception due to the size of the critical mass and the centralist nature of art in England
  • Artists are uncon­trol­lable and need to be guided and patro­nised’ by the state — rather than the state nurturing the creative instincts and complexity of artists and their practice.
  • Artists are poor — the state needs to uplift and patronise them
  • Quality is something obvious to certain types of people from certain kinds of educated classes.
  • Quality is hard to define in value terms (but we all know it when we see it or someone from the above echelon tells us it’s there)

Less than a dozen years ago, arts policy proudly proclaimed: The overall aim of Year of the Artist 2000 is to place the artist at the centre of society, to create better under­standing of the role of the artist, to establish new partner­ships between every sector of society and the arts, to empower artists and commu­nities, and to have a lasting impact for their benefit….” 

State inter­vention, patronage or inter­ference in the market has certainly had the effect of creating more work within arts mediation and admin­is­tration. Back in the 70s, those arts management’ jobs tended to be done by artists who moved from practi­tioner to leading the arts in other ways – they set up and ran the galleries, agencies and arts centres, Nowadays, arts managers are a separate breed with special quali­fi­ca­tions and their own peer networks. They can become leaders’ through schemes such as the Cultural Leadership programme (which inciden­tally so far has enabled just one artist — Joshua Sofaer — to benefit from a Fellowship). Whilst arts leaders rely on an ongoing supply of good artists, they rarely include them in their profes­sional networks, unless they are well-known’. Practi­tioners are rarely trusted to be a leader’ – to behave nicely in public. 

In the 80s gallery director Edna Read wrote in : I have a feeling that if all the living artists disap­peared today, the contem­porary art world would [not notice] — just carry on dong what they’re doing”. And a decade later John Pick (founder of Europe’s first arts management department) commented wryly: If arts admin­is­trators continue to grow at the current rate, there will soon be more of them than people”. Is too much arts money tied up in mediation? Is it signif­icant that in 2004 (when compared with 1989) the salary levels of arts officers working in the publicly-funded arts in England rose by some 41%? 

Despite those grand state­ments about the value of artists made in 2000, by 2010 Arts Council England is barely mentioning artists in their policy (its ten year strategic framework for the arts, except when in the couplet artists and arts organ­i­sa­tions’ will/​should…. [do something or other]. Innovation, excel­lence and all other important arts things – they seem to be saying – are best achieved by placing subsidy into whose missions are to increase audiences for the visual arts (rather than to support the artistic devel­opment or autonomy of artists). There seems to be some irony therefore that the State of the Arts conference for 2012 (organised by ACE and the BBC) is on the theme of Artists changing the world’. 

In the current squeezed economic climate, it seems to have been the recog­nition of artists in financial terms which has been eroded whilst arts managers – admit­tedly often just as hardworking as artists — continue to assid­u­ously find funding and income to maintain their roles, arguing they are the essential grease between market and art. (Note I have purposely placed market first, as it seems that galleries for example tend to give audience devel­opment a higher status within their ambitions than they do to supporting the artistic devel­opment of practi­tioners on their patch). 

How are artists practising?

The 2011 Big Artists Survey reveals that: 

  • 93% of artists use exhibitions/​gallery commis­sions regularly or occasionally.
  • 83% of artists use private commis­sions regularly or occasionally
  • 78% of artists use sell/​retail regularly or occasionally
  • 69% of artists use teach/​lecturing regularly or occasionally
  • 60% of artists use fairs regularly or occasionally
  • 60% of artists use community art regularly or occasionally
  • 52% of artists use do residency/​engaged practice regularly or occasionally
  • 52% of artists use offer research/​consultancy regularly or occasionally
  • 49% of artists use festivals regularly or occasionally
  • 48% of artists carry out public art regularly or occasionally
  • 35% of artists use empty shops to present their work in regularly or occasionally

The artist’s portfolio of activity nowadays is stagger­ingly large and diverse. The gap between this grass-roots pragmatic approach to creating a livelihood and the high-end commercial dealing is ever widening – just as is the gap between the UK’s poor and rich. 

It is a pity that when the UK’s art stars’ do find time to get up and have a voice about the state of the arts they tend to support the insti­tu­tions and art markets that have given them their place (and standard of living) rather than expressing any support for those things that provide ladders and struc­tures for the critical mass’ of artists – from which quality in the arts emerges. It’s almost as if these well-known artists acquired their status by good luck and (of course) by making great work. They didn’t actually need to do any of this portfolio working’ themselves or bother themselves with the grimy’ business of making a living however they could. 

Who wants artists?

a‑n’s (2011) that analyses openly offered work to artists in the calendar year of 2010 compares the main employer categories in 2009 and 2010

HE/FE sector 23% 33%
Arts organ­i­sa­tions 11% 13%
Local author­ities 6% 10%
Trusts 2% 3%
Healthcare 2% 0%

Note how important the HE sector has continued to be in employment terms. In the Gulbenkian study in 1977 second careers including teaching provided the main source of subsidy for the practice of art”. And arts organ­i­sa­tions nowadays — just as they did in that past period — play a much more minor role in finan­cially providing for artists’ liveli­hoods and career development. 

In 2011 Mo Throp is quoted as telling students and parents that: 1% making a living from being a fine artist.” So with the increase in student fees and greater role of parents in the decisions about their offspring’s education choices result in fewer students going on art (and fine art) courses? Could the current propo­sition that there are too many artists’ be super­seded in the future by not enough artists’ (to make a vibrant critical mass)? Note too that this year, UK art colleges saw a 27% drop in applications. 

I have discovered in the course of researching this paper that only 10 – 20 playwrights are making a living from their work nowadays and commis­sions for contem­porary composers are far and few between. Some of those in the high echelons of the visual arts world have voiced approval for the creation of a Top 20’ artists listing as this would clarify the art market and make it all much easier to deal with. 

So are artists ever destined to be at the centre of culture (or is there only room for a chosen few)? 

Being an artist

The more of a portfolio worker you are, the less you earn concludes Creative Graduates: Creative Futures in 2008: 48% of graduates in work were engaged in multiple activ­ities or portfolio working…. combining paid employment with self-employment… 30% combined two activ­ities, 13% had three, and 5% combined four different types of work. This pattern does not change signif­i­cantly over time, even when graduates are four, five or six years into their careers.” 

Hayley Harrison said in her blog I’ve always felt shame knowing I will always make art regardless of how much £s I do/don’t make. It’s refreshing to hear others admit that too. It’s especially difficult to explain to someone [outside the arts]. I feel, they feel I am an idiot. What? You will work for nothing?” 

The question I would raise here is whether this situation – this evidence – is very much different from any other profession’ nowadays? Those similar changes in income levels (and status) seem to be occurring in accoun­tancy, journalism, IT, elsewhere in the human­ities in general. Is this a condition of 21st Century life. 

Note that back in 1997, researchers for found that Money is not the driving force behind making work. What is most important to artists is making work that they are personally happy with. This suggests that artists experience non-pecuniary or psychic income from continuing their practice. 

I was listening in recently to a twitter debate on #artina­cold­climate in which one speaker asserted that businesses were now learning from art”. But surely it isn’t just artists who have the ability to be creative, innov­ative, risky and exper­i­mental? People who are trained as artists can segue into other profes­sions and environ­ments – some of the too many’ usefully take their art thinking and apply it to business, management, social change in other ways. It may be then that such options for artists are not well enough charted (although surely the greater requirement to show employ­a­bility and enter­prise within art and design courses will remedy this omission?) 

In my mind, the issue for the future is not whether there are too many artists but whether suffi­cient levels of investment – from a wide range of sources and perspec­tives — can be found to support the blue skies’, the things they do that raise the game and expec­ta­tions of practi­tioners, that put fashion and instant grati­fi­cation into perspective. I believe that it is the publicly-funded arts insti­tu­tions that will fail to navigate the 21st Century whilst the too many artists’ will secure our ability to do so. 

This paper which was commis­sioned by Market­Project for the seminar Too many artists?’ held on 9 November 2011, has been extended and adapted for online publication.


The economics of artists’ labour markets, Ruth Towse, Arts Council of England, 1996

Gulbenkian Enquiry into the Economic Status of Visual Artists, Andrew Brighton and Nicholas Pearson (unpub­lished) 1977

Employment in the arts and cultural indus­tries: an analysis of the 1991 Census, Jane O’Brien and Andy Feist, Arts Council of Great Britain 1995

Feasi­bility Study for the National Visual Arts Infor­mation Project, Susan Jones, 1988 

The British Art Market, Arts Economics, 2009 

Inquiry into the market for art, Culture Media and Sport Select Committee 2006

Taste buds: how to cultivate the art market, Morris, Hargreaves, McIntyre, 2004 

The changing face of artists’ employment, Susan Jones, a‑n The Artists Infor­mation Company, 2011 (pay to view / free to a‑n members)

Achieving Great Art for Everyone, Arts Council England, 2010

The Visual Arts Survey, Susan Jones, London Institute, 1990

Artists’ fees and payments in the UK, draft report, Phyllida Shaw & Keith Allen, National Artists Associ­ation, 1996

The Big Artists Survey, AIR and a‑n, 2011 

Running a one-person business, Whitmyer, Rasberry and Phillips, Ten Speed Press, 1989

11 Course leaders, 20 questions, Q Arts London, 2011 (pay to view)

Do you really expect to get paid? An economic study of profes­sional artists in Australia, David Throsby, Australia Arts Council, 2009

A fair share – direct funding to individual artists from UK arts councils, Dany Louise, a‑n The Artists Infor­mation Company 2011 (pay to view / free to a‑n members)

Muses and markets explo­rations in the economics of the arts, Frey and Pommerehne, Blackwell, 1989 

The business of being an artist, Janet Summerton, Eric Moody, City University, 1996

Profile of Conrad Atkinson, a‑n Magazine, December 2002 (pay to view / free to a‑n members)

The State and the Visual Arts, Nicholas Pearson, 1981

Creative Graduates – Creative Futures, 2008

Artists’ rates of pay 1989 – 2004, Susan Jones, Paul Glinkowski (pay to view / free to a‑n members)

Something’s happening, Hayley Harrison’s blog started October 2011

Artists Career Paths, Arts Council of England, 1997

Thanks also to Ros Rigby, Programme Director, The Sage Gateshead and Director of New Writing North Claire Malcolm, for their insights and evidence for this paper.