Several weeks ago we published some initial results from our 2012 State of the Art Survey (view the original post here). In the original post you can read about how many responses we received (about 1250) and where they came from. This week I’ll focus on some of the details from artists who are having some success selling their work. The data below comes primarily from artists who are selling more than $25,000 worth of work per year (gross).
As with the original post I want to emphasize that this survey was not scientific and can only point to trends amongst the respondents. Hopefully this information helps you better understand what’s going on in the broader art market.
Professional Engagement in the Art Business
In our broader findings (View the original post here) we found that 45% of respondents considered themselves engaged full time in their art business, but when we looked at sales we found that 83% of the artists who took the survey were selling less than $25,000 per year. With the data now filtered for those selling $25,000 or more we can now look at the other side of this equation. It should come as no surprise that in order to start making a living one must be devoting the majority of his or her efforts to the production and sales of artwork; our data confirmed this. We found that 91% of the $25k+ group reported that they were engaged full-time creating and selling their art. Only 8% said they were attaining that level of sales by spending only part of their time creating, and the percent who consider it to be a hobby have found a very profitable hobby indeed!
As you move further up the sales chart this result becomes even more pronounced. Of those selling $50k+, 97% are full-time. I’m sure these results come as no surprise, but it confirms that making a living as an artist requires full-time commitment. I think there are two parts to this – one, it simply requires a tremendous amount of raw time to be able to produce the requisite inventory and to build the relationships with collectors and galleries, and two, there’s something about taking the leap and having to make the sales in order to eat that serves to sharpen one’s focus and effort.
In terms of medium you can see that of the artists making $25,000+ in our survey, the majority were painters, then other (which included everything from gourd art to found objects, recycled art), then sculptors and so on. Now before you read too much into this and say “I knew it, there are more painters than sculptors making a living with their art,” we should note that this actually simply indicates that we had more painters respond to the survey. Obviously sales by medium would be of interest, so let’s diverge for just a moment to take a peek at these numbers.
In other words it would appear that there is a greater percentage of sculptors selling at levels that would constitute a living than either painters or photographers (photographers, it seems, really struggle to generate consistent sales). We don’t have enough results from the other media to give reliable results.
Year over Year Sales
For artists selling above $25,000 the outlook for sales looks generally positive. Sales from 2010 to 2011 held steady or increased for 73%, while they declined for 27%
We saw the same trend in this group as in the broader base of all respondents where they remained somewhat tentative about the general health of the art market, but overwhelmingly positive about their own prospects for sales.
Marketing Efforts for 2012
The $25K+ set indicated that their marketing priorities as follows:
Many of the artists in the survey indicated that they will be approaching art marketing in a hybridized way – combining self-promotion with gallery relationship strengthening. Many respondents chose the “other” category to indicate that they would be working in more than one area. You can see here that a third, when forced to choose one, said they would list gallery relationship building as their number one priority while 2/3 indicated that direct sales, in one form or another would be their main thrust.
How many galleries do you have to have showing your work to break $25,000 in sales? According to our figures a full 16% were making the sales with no gallery representation whatsoever. Over 60% of $25K+ respondents were showing in between 1-4 galleries.
These numbers aren’t perhaps as helpful as seeing the relationship between number of galleries representing an artist and sales.
It’s interesting to note the drop from 0 gallery representation to 1 gallery. From these figures it appears that artists who are completely self-reliant when it comes to sales have a significant advantage over artists only showing in 1-4 galleries. This is especially true when you take into consideration net sales; an artist selling his or her own work retains the entire sale amount whereas an artist showing in galleries typically pays 40-50% in commissions. Please note that this particular dataset skews low because we took into account all of the 1250 artists participating in the survey to arrive at these averages, whether they were working full-time or not. The averages themselves may not reflect the full-time professional’s total sales, but the trend is accurate – the artists generating the most income would be those who are actively promoting themselves, or those who are showing in multiple galleries.
In the original survey we compared productivity of $25K+ artists to the broader group and showed that there is a general correlation between higher productivity and higher sales (View the original post here). This comparison was an interesting way to visualize the relationship, but I thought it might be helpful to see that there are exceptions to this trend by sampling the various production points and seeing how well artists where doing in terms of gross sales. While this data confirms the original correlation between productivity and sales, it shows that even at lower levels of production there are those artists who are able to sell at higher price points to attain respectable total sales.
In the coming weeks, in response to your requests we will be looking at the results by filtering for individual media as well as showing the results based on region of the U.S. – The original data is available at www.xanadugallery.com/1/StateofTheArtData.csv if you would like to parse out your own conclusions. If you do analyze the data and find something interesting, please pass it along to me at jason[at]xanadugallery.com and I will share it on the blog.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.