Advice/stats on jobs in the arts

My daughter (high school age) is thinking of pursuing something in the arts: becoming a painter/artist, or pianist, or an author (she is pretty good at all three).

In order to make an informed decision, I was wondering if there are any stats (or personal anecdotes you may have) on how many “make it” in each of the above fields.

By “make it” I don’t mean “become hugely famous and rich”, but make enough money to stay in that field as their main source of income.

What are your experiences? Do you know of any studies on what percent of people leave these fields after failing to make enough of an income from them?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Us Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information on median pay, projected number of jobs, and projected job growth in different fields. Fine artists are under Arts and Design, musicians under Entertainment and Sports, and writers under Media and Communication.

As for anecdotes, I’ve known many people over the years who wanted to be professional artists, musicians, or writers, and off the top of my head I can think of only one (a member of a modestly successful indie rock band) who was able to quit his day job. Several of the others are quite talented and at least one has a Master’s degree in her field, but none were able to support themselves entirely through their creative work. A few do make most of their money teaching art or music.

Of course, in any field where you’re likely to be self-employed then a lot depends on how good you are at managing your own business and promoting yourself. I make jewelry as a hobby and to give as gifts and people often tell me “You should sell those! You could make a lot of money!”, but I have never seriously pursued this even as a sideline because of my lack of interest and ability on the business/sales end of things.

Thanks for the link. It’s a great resource.

This is quite sobering, and mostly in line with what I thought was going on.

That’s what my daughter has in mind, especially regarding piano. It’s almost a bit like a Ponzi scheme :slight_smile: [teach art to students and the main way those students will make money is to teach it to other students]

A: I’m an artist
B: Really? What restaurant?

One thing to watch out for is that the OOH lists median salary, but that really doesn’t tell the whole story. You can draw a lot of income distributions that all have the same medians, and I guarantee that some will be significantly more appealing than others.

I was married to an artist who was and still is fairly successful in the Science Fiction world of art. By fairly successful, I mean he’s sold a lot of work in that genre (he does astronomicals) and his name is fairly well known in some circles. When we were married, he sold quite a bit and he (financially) survived by working at an art studio, framing paintings (not necessarily his) and made enough money to pay the electric bill and some change each month. Yeah, big bucks. Occassionally, he’d sell a painting for a few hundred dollars, but that didn’t usually offset what he spent for his supplies and travel. At the Science Fiction conventions (cons), he did fairly well selling prints of his work, but again, he was never rolling in the dough (or able to support himself for any length of time).

Now, about 20 years after he turned professional, he has his Master’s degree in Fine Arts and does digital book covers for writers (lots of small circulation published books). Not sure what kind of money he’s making now, but I’m pretty sure his current wife (who is a teacher at a local college) foots most of the bills. I think it pretty much keeps him in supplies (now it’s fancy schmancy computers and computer programs) and a few dollars left over.

The upside is that he gets to do something he loves and express his creativity. The downside is that he has absolutely no retirement, and as a self employed artist, if his wife didn’t carry health insurance, he wouldn’t have any. (He went for many years without it until he got re-married.) He’s also at the whim of the latest desire (or not) for his work, and partly may be due to his limited genre of art.

I’ve seen him struggle financially and emotionally throughout the years and he’s usually had someone else who puts a roof over his head and food in his stomach. I’ve also seen him hustle at his craft (it’s not like he’s watching hours of Star Trek for inspiration or anything–he frequently works 12-14 hour days on his work), and for me, it’s a lot of effort in not only creating his work, but also promoting it.

If your daughter decides to pursue this area for a career, I wish her the best of luck.

If the piano is her choice, I would say have a plan B in place, and maybe even a plan C. The competition in music is chew-'em-up-and-spit-'em-out unhealthy, and if you want to make it your living, you don’t dare opt out. Basically, you either come out on top or let it eat you alive.