If there were still any doubts about how precarious the status of visual artists has become, a new British study definitively dispels them by elaborating on the many economic difficulties cultural professionals in the United Kingdom are facing.
The survey, reported on by “The Art Newspaper”, was carried out by the UK charity Acme among 226 visual artists who use the organisation’s services to rent affordable studios across England.
It reveals that, for a large number of these artists, their love of art isn’t enough to pay the bills, putting to bed once and for all the fantasy that a cultural calling goes hand in hand with stratospheric earnings.
In reality, art professionals struggle to make a living from their passion: their artistic practice accounts for just 33% of their income among those surveyed. Only 12% of these artists live exclusively from the sales of their work, which proves that many of them have to take on food-industry service jobs to ensure a degree of financial stability.
And even this level of economic security is relatively illusory. The Acme Artist Tenant Survey found that 40% of art workers said they could not afford to contribute to their retirement or put money aside.
The impoverishment of the cultural professions is such that almost one British artist out of three fears they will not be able to continue to work in this capacity professionally in the next five years.
For Acme founder David Panton, these statistics show the rocky road many visual artists face these days. “To be a practising artist in the UK is to live daily with problems of survival,” he said.
“The financial, practical and intellectual challenges artists face mean that they must constantly find solutions – and, increasingly, justification – for a way of life which may seem to run counter to the rest of society.”
Unsurprisingly, this phenomenon extends beyond the UK: all over the world, the vast majority of artists today live in very precarious economic conditions.
In France, for example, cultural professionals, who account for 2.2% of the working population, earn incomes from their art that are 26% lower than those of other working people, according to a study by the country’s culture ministry.
French writer Aurélien Catin describes the status of the artist as “symbolically privileged but economically disastrous”. One target in particular is visibility as compensation: a widespread practice in the artistic field, it justifies an absence of financial remuneration by claiming that showing one’s work is a form of payment in itself.
Indeed, the culture of working for free – prevalent also in Malaysia – continues to be a cause for concern in a sector already under pressure and further damaged by the pandemic.