Portrait of the American Artist

Graphic Credit: From Artists in the Workforce (Research Report #48), courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts

I find one of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting art galleries, exhibitions, and art & craft fairs is the opportunity to speak with people involved in the arts, including artists, dealers, gallery owners, collectors, customers and fellow art enthusiasts. Such discussions have provided detailed insights into the nature of the art world, such as the increase in the number of artists and MFA-degree holders; the difficulty many artists find in making a full-time living from their art; the continued interest in figuration and realism among the public; and the growing demographic diversity of the artist population. It’s gratifying when an academic study reinforces the lessons of my informal survey taking. Read on for a detailed Profile of the American Artist. ~TAB

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently released Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005, the first nationwide look at American artists’ demographic and employment patterns in the 21st century. Artists in the Workforce analyzes working artist trends, gathering new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau to provide a comprehensive overview of this workforce segment, its maturation over the past 30 years, along with detailed information on specific artist occupations.

Numbering almost two million, artists are one of the largest classes of workers in the nation, only slightly smaller than the U.S. military’s active-duty and reserve personnel (2.2 million). Artists now represent 1.4 percent of the U.S. labor force and earn an aggregate income of approximately $70 billion annually. The report profiles 11 artist occupations, including actors; announcers; architects; art directors, fine artists (including painters, sculptors, illustrators and multi-media artists) and animators; dancers and choreographers; designers; entertainers and performers; musicians; photographers; producers and directors; writers and authors.

Report highlights:

Demographic trends
–Between 1970 and 1990, the number of artists more than doubled, from 737,000 to 1.7 million – a much larger percentage gain than for the labor force as a whole. Between 1990 and 2005, the growth of artists slowed to a 16 percent rate, about the same as for the overall labor force.
–Women remain underrepresented in several artist occupations. Men outnumber women in architecture, announcing, music, production, and photography. Women outnumber men in the fields of dance, design, and writing.
–Like the larger labor force, the artist population is becoming more diverse. The proportion of Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian artists grew from about nine percent of artists in 1990 to almost 15 percent by 2005.

Geographic distribution
–Opportunities for artistic employment are greater in metropolitan areas. More than one-fifth of all U.S. artists live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston. Half of all artists live in 30 metropolitan areas.
–Unique regional concentrations emerge. New Mexico has the highest share of fine artists, Vermont has the highest proportion of writers, and Tennessee, the highest proportion of musicians.

Employment and income
–Artists are entrepreneurial – 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed.
–Artists are underemployed – one-third of artists work for only part of the year.
–Artists generally earn less than workers with similar education levels. The median income from all sources in 2005 was $34,800 for artists, higher than the $30,100 median for the total labor force, and lower than the $43,200 for all professionals.

Education level
–Artists are more educated. Artists are twice as likely to have a college degree as other U.S. workers.
–The share of degree-holding artists rose between 1990 and 2005.
–Among artist occupations with the highest educational attainment levels are architects, writers, and producers.

NEA Office of Research and Analysis. Artists in the Workforce is the latest offering from the NEA Office of Research and Analysis, which has conducted authoritative and comprehensive research on artist workforce patterns and other subjects for more than 30 years. The NEA Research Division issues periodic research reports and briefs on significant topics affecting artists and arts organizations. Artists in the Workforce and other reports are available in print and electronic form in the Research section.

Not with a bang, but a whimper

to-read-or-not-to-read.jpgThis is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. —T. S. Eliot

The Talmud and the Koran allege that a library existed before the creation of the world. The Vedas take this singular idea one audacious step further: a library existed before the creator himself. Such is the fabulous potency of the idea of the book.  —From The Economist

It is appallingly shameful that literature should die, not through the willful or careless destruction of books, but from neglect.

On November 19, 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced the release of To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, a new and comprehensive analysis of reading patterns in the United States. The story is a sad one.

From the preface:

The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years. There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates. These negative trends have more than literary importance. As this report makes clear, the declines have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications.
How does one summarize this disturbing story? As Americans, especially younger Americans, read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they have lower levels of academic achievement. (ie shameful fact that nearly one-third of American teenagers drop out of school is deeply connected to declining literacy and reading comprehension.) With lower levels of reading and writing ability, people do less well in the job market. Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement. Significantly worse reading skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting.

Among the key findings:

  • Americans are reading less – teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age groups and with Americans of previous years.
  • Americans are reading less well– reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.
  • The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications – Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.

Is there a positive message?  According to Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research and Analysis, there may be some hope:

“This report shows striking statistical links between reading, advanced reading skills, and other individual and social benefits. To Read or Not to Read compels us to consider more carefully how we spend our time, since those choices affect us individually and collectively.”

Related links:
Report: Americans Reading Less from Time Magazine (11/19/07)
Libraries: Nasty, dangerous things from The Economist (10/25/07)
The Big Read from the National Endowment for the Arts

~TAB

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