2012 State of the Art Survey | Results from Full-Time Artists

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.


Gallery Representation


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.


Next Up


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.


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Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook


  1. This is the most depressing set of numbers that I have seen related to art sales in some time. Despite your apparent efforts to put a positive spin on things, a couple of numbers jumps out at me. First, 91% of your respondants claim to be full time, of those roughly half (58%) label themselves painters. Of that 58% more then half (54%) don’t make enough to cover my annual grocery bill, let alone any other expenses. This would be regardless of how much art they produced or how many galleries they are in. If you inlcude those who do not make a living wage (less then 25,000, when one considers you need to pay social security and insurance from that amount) the number skyrockets to 85% of painters. If you put those numbers alone back to your 91% who CLAIM to make all their money from art you have over half that clearly must have some other source of income. In short, your respondants are clearly not completely honest about their status. On that sort of income they would quickly not have the resources to purchase raw materials, ie paint, brushes, canvas let alone continue to be a full time artist. So what gives? You forgot to ask an important question….how many live off someone else’s income? My quess is the vast majority of these “artists” are either “housewives” or “househusbands” who live off a spouse. These individuals are probably both a blessing and curse to those who really wish to make a living at art. Because they really don’t “need” their art to eat, they can sell it below their real cost, and if you’ve ever been to a weekend outdoor show, you know most of the art is below cost. This is wonderful for the patron, but horrible for the artist who has no other means of support. I myself would love to be a full time artist, but I like a roof over my head and food in my stomach, not to mention my kids want an education to enter a field that actually makes money. Of course, that’s not to say it isn’t possible in art, just highly unlikely so you’d better have a back-up plan. I have yet to meet even one artist doing a weekend show who really makes what I would consider to be a decent living, certainly not the painters. These last couple years have been devestating for many. Many who continue, like myself, do so because we have additional sources of income. I really feel for those trying to do this, so the lack of real clarity in your poll is not what I would consider to be helpful. Again, the number who consider themselves “full-time” when compared to actual sales do not add up.

    1. Sue,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I am a glass-half full kind of guy (okay, in this case it’s more like a glass 8% full), so if there’s a “possitive spin” it’s because I can’t help myself. But the numbers speak for themselves, and surely don’t come as any surprise to anyone involved in the business. The reality is simple: It’s not easy to make a living in the art world. As someone intimately involved in the daily struggle of artists I feel that it’s better to have a clear picture of the challenge, and that is the aim of the survey (imperfect thought it may be).

      As far as those artists who consider themselves full-time but are currently “starving” or making it by relying on a partner’s income – every successful artist has gone through this phase. And while it is only a small percentage who are going to go on to ultimate success, if every artist who struggled today gave up, we would have no great artists tomorrow.

      I really appreciate the dialogue.


  2. Sue- These numbers are depressing but it’s reality and it’s exactly what I needed to get myself motivated. I go to these shows your talking about and I meet so many artists who think their art is so great, that people will just start buying, no hard work needed. That’s good for me because these artists will come and go and believe me, I’ve seen MANY of them disappear.
    Jason- Thanks so much for these more realistic numbers. It’s a constant reminder that any career doesn’t come easy and takes hard work and dedication. I’ve started using your methods in your books and I’ve been working hard in the studio! I can’t wait until I’ve reached my goals and can start using your techniques to start approaching galleries. I’ll be honest and say it’s been harder than I thought but it has got me pumped! Working harder in the studio has me more excited about my work more than ever and every day I can’t wait til I get home from my “other” job to get working on another piece! Thank you for everything!!

  3. I think this is a good survey. You have no control over who participated, and I think you’ve done a fine job turning statistics into useful information. Even though the vast majority of people who call themselves artists are not truly career artists, bravo to the housewives and hobbyists who have a
    true passion for art and love to make it. Some of them may not be making much income, but they may be making wonderful art. And to Sue, if most of the respondents are hobbyists, then the actual picture of artists’ income is much less depressing than you say.

  4. Dear Sir:

    I found your statistics to be accurate, insofar as I can appreciate all of the criteria behind them all. There are a few other criteria you may try to factor in: the duration of one’s commitment to full-time participation as well as one’s residency in a particular places. For example, I made nearly fifty thousand dollars last year and almost as much the year before. In previous years, I made less than $32,000.00 per year, though I typically made at least $25.000.00. Why the uptick? Ships come in over time. I’d invested years in certain clients who were glacially deliberate about consummating a sale, but when they did, it paid off magnificently. Between 2010 and 2011, however, I’d gone about things in exactly the same way as I always had. The difference between those years and the ones that preceded them was timing. I didn’t add anybody to my client list; nor was I offering things that might have appealed to somebody new. Everything was the same except for a convergence of events that had not previously occurred.

    The reasons for my moderate success are manifold – aside from the quality of my work. I know of better artists who are stuck in teaching positions and will never get out of them. Most lack the spirit – and stomach – to chase down potential clients. The galleries that generally represent them don’t, in my view, work hard enough. That’s the main reason why I represent myself. I would rather fail than know that my dealer had done nothing – which is almost always the case with “b-list” painters.

    It is easier to sell paintings, of whatever subject and quality, than drawings. People, both ignorant and educated, respond more readily to color. A good drawing will stay on the wall; a bad painting will find a home somewhere.

    It is also useful to know where paintings are more likely to sell than not. Unless you are an A-lister, New York City is a deadly environment. There are too many artists at the top of the pyramid; why, when there is such an abundance, look for anybody else? I sold as many paintings last year as I was able to in all the time I was in New York. And for a great deal more money.

    Medium-sized cities with a stable income base and general prosperity favor the sale of art. If an artist is not in such a place, he or she should consider relocating. I lived in Memphis for a number of years and squeezed what little was possible – given the quality of my work, my exhibition portfolio, and my meagre reputation – out of it. It was, however, not a good place to live; nor is it now – though it is most certainly better than it was.

    If a city does not have a gallery “scene; if its corporate culture is not invested in art (no matter misguided its policies); if its museums are road companies for exhibits from elsewhere, best to think of moving elsewhere. I’m certainly not saying that these phenomena will guarantee success, but they must be well-established for a painter-on-the-make to be able to make a living among them.

    My livelihood has come, only in part, from these sources, with corporate wealth topping the list. I have worked largely off the radar, but within a culture that is informed by the presence of galleries; by corporate participation; and by the cachet of having a major museum in the neighborhood. An artist who would make a living needs these things, even if he or she may never utilize them.

    In any case, I just wanted to inject a few more particulars into a study that is already comprehensive enough.

    I will conclude with this statement, which has probably determined what little success I’ve had over the years. Noel Coward said that, in order to be successful, you must have an extraordinary tolerance for failure. That would describe my experience as succintly as language can.


    Brett Busang

  5. There are a few errors in my statement:

    1) Could you delete the second “all” in the first sentence?
    2) In line three, it is “place” and not “places.” Just an oversight on my part.


    Brett Busang

  6. Dear Brett
    Your comment is quite enlightening. May I quote you in my site/blog acrylicfineartpainting.com?
    I’ll mention your name, obviously.
    Guess people who read my blog will find your remarks to the point.

    1. Dear Ana:

      I hope mine is the most belated reply you will ever receive – unless I sent you one right away and have clearly failed to remember it. Yet, having stumbled on to this survey – which I do remember having participated in – I feel that, having asked to borrow a word or two, you have my permission – should you still want it – to do so. I should, however, add that my livelihood, as a painter, has deteriorated since that time – and for a possibly good reason: I spend most of my time writing and don’t put as much effort into selling my work as I did in 2012. And, possibly as a consequence of withdrawing somewhat, my lucky star (which wasn’t exactly pulsating at any given moment during those “flush” years) has fallen. I hope yours is, however, on the ascendant.

  7. Jason,

    Thanks so much for all the time and effort you are putting into this. There is a lot to digest, but this data is useful to me, and has me thinking.

    Andy Pitts
    Furniture Maker

  8. I’ve migrated away from gallery representation and decided to open my own gallery last year. With over 80% of my sales direct through the internet, it didn’t make sense to have inventory tied up at galleries and just sit there when I can sell the work myself. I managed to sell 83 paintings last year, but the real story is that I spend about 10 hours doing marketing and self promotion for each hour I spend painting, and I have an annual marketing budget that could pay for a mediterranean cruise. The work definitely does not “sell itself”. It’s hard work, but it is paying off. I have a second job that provides a good income that supports my family. I could never survive on my art income alone. Being an artist is the most exciting and depressing thing I have ever experienced. I understand Vincent Van Gogh.

  9. Sue – I can’t believe we read the same results and had such different reactions. First of all, I’m a ‘full time artists’, who has a husband who works at a regular job. But when I saw those figures, I plugged myself in the chart and said “Wow – I’m not doing so bad, and LOOK where I am planning on being next year, and in 5 years! There’s great hope!” I hope you get what you want, too.
    BUT here’s the thing – there’s no quality control here – I know there are a lot of good artists out there, but there are a LOT of terrible ones, too! People who just put crap out there, thinking if they just ‘express’ themselves, someone should want to buy that. So… know that the people at the ‘top’ are probably those who think a lot about their process, who are tough on themselves in terms of composition, who are bold, who have a unique vision and who don’t skimp when it comes to constructing their work. Just a thought!

  10. I’m curious as to how full-time artist’s sales by web site fit into the scene. And is a web site best for making one’s work known rather than for actual sales? I’m curious to know how juried art show sales fit in . Are these in the “Other” category?

  11. Thanks so much for this survey. I am a part-time artist who is gearing towards spending a lot more time in the studio. This survey is giving me goals to aim for to perservere in my work. I also agree with the point that many housewives consider themselves full-time artists and do sell below value. I see it all the time; in small communities artists price themselves much lower than in larger cities. When I came to a larger community, I doubled the prices of my work and got it.

    Thank you again so much for doing this necessary survey.

  12. All the numbers I’ve seen: 10 % to 20% of self employed earn 80% to 90% of the income in their area. Which it looks as if your numbers would indicate artists fit in with most self employed groups.
    I find your numbers really encouraging and thank you for them. Also I’m keeping in mind that many of the top income artists don’t have time to read or reply to surveys, so it is likely the income levels are tilted to the low side in this survey.

  13. Boy what an interesting set of posts and research results. I participated in the survey. Heck I ‘m doing OK compared to lots or more experienced and gallery represented artists. Im totally intimidated by the number of artists working today. The competition in our field of painting anyway is huge relative to the number of actual buyers of art over $500 per piece. Anybody making $25000 has fabulous work for sale certainly understands how to move work better than the average artist. I’ve decided the only way to move forward is to develope enough quality pieces that I can answer calls to artists with a one man show of 20 pieces. This is the direction I’m going inorder to move from nobody to somebody. A unified themed art show with quality work. It’s fun trying so that’s my focus. Regardless I’m painting and drawing, except for ski days.

  14. Because the survey is totally generated by self-respondents, it is by nature imbalanced. And that imbalance might lessen the bad news for low level makers of art: They might be doing poorer than they think! The upper echelons probably are quite busy being successful and don’t bother to participate in surveys. Maybe that’s why they are on the top of the heap. They are busy being successful, while here we are looking through rose colored glasses and waiting for our power ball number to hit.

    Maybe the statistical anomaly is that the term “artist” is self assumed. The criteria needed to be called “Artist” does not exist. So when you pole self-defined artists, you get what you get. There’s a huge difference in being called “Artist” by your family and seeing it in print in an editorial or within a national TV show. Then, again, magazines and TV do misspeak themselves, too.

    Might it not be more useful to have the data reported from only successful artists? It would provide a profile of what “success” really looks like. Like how many hours do you work per day, per week, et al. Maybe the criteria should be the one from the IRS that allows hobbyists to take only three years of deductions for losses before losing that ability? Maybe I read the survey incorrectly, but I got the feeling we were looking in the survey for a road map to profitability, or where and why some are profitable.


  15. I notice that on the charts for productivity, the highest income bracket (which is 250K-499K, since the 500K+ category is at 0%) is at 1% on the chart for producing 11-20 pieces per year, and at 2% on the chart for producing 41-50 pieces per year, whereas it is at 0% on the chart for producing 71-80 pieces per year. I’m thinking that, while earning a good income relies on a lot of artistic production, earning the highest income does not. I assume these artists are either super-critically-acclaimed or are working in time-consuming mediums such as bronze. Still, it tells me that the most successful artists are not those who become an art factory. Okay, so I’m reading into it the message I wish to see, but don’t we all?

  16. First of all, thank you for the amount of hard work you have put into this survey. Although the statistical sampling may have its flaws, EVERY survey has its flaws! But given the nature of the beast, you are still providing a worthwhile set of numbers that are useful to any artist who will use them to be motivated.

    Some of my artist buddies and I have come to the conclusion that there is a massive correlation between visual artists and musical artists. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of musicians out there who are working hard to achieve a “superstar” position in the music world. Most are forever going to linger the “garage band” realm, while a few will become local or regional “stars”, even fewer will make the national spotlight, and precious few make the top of the pyramid. The same paradigm exists in the visual artist’s world.

    Should the long odds of making a really good full time living discourage us from trying? I say “No”, if this is where my passion lies. To misquote the famous lines from Eric Liddell in the movie “Chariots of Fire”: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me {an artist}. And when I {create art} I feel His pleasure!

    Will I be a superstar artist? Probably not. Am I having the time of my life creating and working in my field? Absolutely. Do the numbers from this survey motivate me and give me ammunition to make smarter decisions, bolder moves, and to work harder? Heck yeah!

    Thanks again, Jason

  17. Thanks for the survey. Really informative.

    Having worked with statistics in a former career, another look at the data might indicate that when people generate $25,000 gross annual sales they feel they can leave the “other” job and be a full-time artist. As I read artist blogs, I seem to see that kind of planning.

  18. by the way – for anyone who cares, my web site is way way way out of date. I’ll hopefully get back to that soon.

    SUPPORT GROUP AND HARD WORK — Reading the results of your poll has been an extraordinary experience for me. It’s great to hear the comments from other artists who make a living producing art – or struggle to do so. I made my first sell at about 9 years old and had my first show — when I was 13 years old. I think that most of any success I’ve had is due to very hard work and frankly, just plain good luck. After a couple of years away from creating anything (because of illness), I was finally nudged back to my work table by a wonderful social worker who believed in me and simply would not take NO for an answer. I’ve been lucky with my work – (I work in Polymer Clay — Water color – and acrylics, Pen and ink – and marker — And sometimes anything I can get my hands on including burnt toilet paper) I’ve sold consistently over the years. My work is in permanent Museum collections and private collections in France, Europe, England, Japan, China, The United States White House in Washington DC –and of course New York City. I read earlier some negative thoughts about New York City — I lived in NYC most of my adult life and was represented there and sold lots of mywork there. A while back, because of this wonderful social worker – I recently completed a collection and sold all of it privately. I was approached by a gallery to create some “greeting” cards — and I did that and they sold. Nothing pleases me more than the kind of excitement over something I’m working on – that keeps me up working until I finally drop at about 4A.M or in the morning. WAIT — I’M WAY OFF TOPIC — Sorry. What I’m trying to say is that one’s SUPPORT group is very important. Outside of my collectors, I have a very strong and loving support group — including my x-wife, my daughter — The Friend who I took to my high school prom with whom I’m still close – and other caring friends. It’s important for us artists to have a good support group – If you don’t have one – Get one. Join Art Groups, Shake your own tree in one of the on-line groups. Show your stuff to everyone. Market yourself. A few years ago, I did a fairly extensive study and found that almost ALL – of the truly great artists were also great at marketing themselves — From Picasso to Andy Warhal (cannot spell) and our favorite Michael Angelo. Anyhow, I say – May the Gods be with you – and may you sell everything you produce in 2012.

    James Peacock

  19. enyoyed all of this just remember Van Gogh did not sell one painting during his lifetime. I visited his museum in Amsterdam( i think) and would wonder how he would react to shopping bags and greeting cards and journals all with his images.

  20. Wow, fabulous survey!! I have been in the $25 -50,000 gross group for several years (painter), and each year seems to be about 10-20% better than the last. Now I do teach as well as paint, half that income is from teaching, the other half from painting sales. I am also very well supported by a husband with a great job -not that I take anything off of my work ethic because of it, it’s just nice to know that if the economy really went south, I wouldn’t have to pitch burgers 🙂 I would agree that marketing is as important as honing your craft -I spend about half time on each. Good thing I am a quick painter!!
    I am intrigued by Norman Nelson’s comment: the only way to move forward is to develope enough quality pieces that I can answer calls to artists with a one man show of 20 pieces. Interesting idea and a great goal. I did that last year with a small art museum show, had a very successful show in terms of acclaim and attendance, but only a few sales -and my work ranged from $300 to 2100/peice -average price $595/ptg. I even produced a book to go with the exhibition. The books have been a huge hit!
    Don’t tell me the market isn’t depressed!!!! But I will keep up the good fight -who knows?

  21. It would be helpful, if no one else has mentioned it (sorry, I haven’t taken the time to read ALL the posts), to know the geographical locations of the artists and, if possible, the galleries in which they’re generating their $25,000+ income. Is that in the data/responses?

    Thanks for all the effort you’ve put into this, Jason.


  22. After reading this information I have to be really grateful for the success my husband and Ihave achieved in the last five years when we decided to work together on different aspects of achieving success. We are part of that minority that are able to sustain ourselves on what we earn as artists and yes I do find it shocking how few people are able to make a living with their art career. Ithink that there is nothing wrong with having a full time career in another field and working on art part time and making some sales. It is an extra income and you are doing something you love to do so to me it is a win win situation. As most of us do not have patrons we have to do what it takes to feed ourselves and also keep art in our lives. If people are very serious about achieving success in their lives in the field of art I suggest they think twice about marrying and having a family at least while they are young when it i s t he most difficult. The responsibility of children etc will dampen any art career and I have seen people who are much more talented than I will ever be lose their way and their art career goes dormant. Of course I have heard of artists who do well enough to support a family but from what I have seen its very few and far between. Dedication, professionalism,and sheer bloody mindedness is what will take you to the top along with a much needed grasp of reality.

  23. We have learned that a good attitude is paramount if you want to be successful in anything. We have found that a number of artists are very competitive in a negative way with one another and can be cut throat to those that they see as a threat. We are all in this together and our work is so different that there should be no need for back stabbing. Keeping our eyes on our own path and not comparing ourselves to others is also a great hint in the process of being an artist or should I say being a successful artist. Also making sure that one is easy to work with and being pleasant to be around can get you more places than being difficult and demanding. So stay away from diva like attitudes and actions as it will just make people not want to show or buy your work. Be grateful when someone purchases your work and they will most likely think of you again when thinking of an art purchase.

  24. I don’t do it for the money, i love taking a hunk of wood and turning it in to something beautiful, but it is a very good feeling when someone likes it and is willing to pay me for it.

  25. Jason…Thank you kindly for all the work that went into the posts. survey,. You surely are the artist real friend & I appreciate it…We artists do “IT” because we need to do art…How sweet that folks like you are training us to make $$$ besides. Good Luck God Bless please continue your game plan. Sally

  26. It would be helpful in a future survey (Question 8) to find out how much artists are now selling over the Internet through their own and other web sites (presumably part of the “Other” category in this survey). More than 50% of my sales are now obtained this way and because of this I am investing a lot more this year in Internet marketing.

  27. Nice work, Jason…and reading the responses it generated very much filled in gaps, brought up more questions and was generally entertaining.
    My immediate response had to do with the paycheck job(s) vs the full time artist thing as I’m self-employed and so have to be marketing myself no matter what I do and thus it has been for quite some time. Happily, as a kind of shaman-type, I can overlap a lot of the marketing and do.
    Because of circumstances beyond my control I had to step out of life for about eight years; that’ll put a serious dent in your PR! But what it also did was give me the opportunity to re-format myself into a far more marketable creature. I consider myself a product. “I” don’t matter…what I do, does. That’s allowed me to market my writing, my theraputic work, and my art as a kind of holistic entity, each aspect of it feeding the others. That said, I spend most of my time either marketing myself or creating something to market. For me there is no such thing as ‘an eight hour day.’ Nor will there be ever probably… unless I’m on vacation. If I’m awake, I’m working on something except for the couple of hours it takes me to unwind at the end of the day.
    I was at the top of my earning game ($90,000) before the eight year hiatus and I’ll get back there. For me, attitude is almost everything (work being next in line) and a glass half full is just fine with me ’cause there’s always room for more!

  28. I’m interested to know how much artwork is being produced by the artists that have gallery representation that is 3+ and having an income over 25k. The artists that have only 1 or 2 galleries representing them are not doing as well as the self representing artist. I myself am self represented and would like to see more stream lined facts about that demographic.

    Great information Jason!

    -Russ McIntosh

  29. Jason and all others who have contributed their comments:
    Thanks Jason for all your efforts in this survey and thanks to all of you who took the time to respond with personal observations and comments. As an aspiring artist, the survey and comments make one think about what it really takes to become successful in the “art-world”. Devotion, hard work, diligence and perserverance and perhaps a bit of luck; but then, isn’t “luck” (aside from winning the lottery) mostly the result of devotion, hard work, etc?
    To All, thanks again,

  30. Unbelievably usful information. I am so impressed with the break downs, pie charts and information that with it, I believe it is possible to make a living. I have no problem working ‘overtime at my primary job as an Artist. Your information gives motivation to work even harder. Thaank you so much.

  31. It was mentioned at the very top that 45% of the total respondents (1,250) were full-time artists so that equals 562.5 full-time artists. And that 83% of the total respondents were selling less than $25,000/yr. That means that only 212.5 artists (17% of the respondents) out of the survey are making over 25,000+yr. Are these all full-time artists? And is $25,000+ before paying commissions to galleries, etc. and cost of supplies?

    Another factor I would be interested in is out of the 212.5 artists making more than $25,000 yr., how many years had they been full-time artists and marketing their work. And how long did it take them to reach a level that they could support themselves with their art.

    I think that everyone can agree that the last 3 years has been devastating for artists trying to sell their work, especially those just starting out. And the statistics bear that out. It is also hard to determine much from statistics with the type of economy we are experiencing except that very few are still able to make a living working at their art full-time. That is why I just keep painting, continue to beef up my resume, expose my work through shows, ads, etc. and hope that all my efforts will pay off when the economy improves. As somebody mentioned, it is difficult to compete and make a living in an area where many artists price their art too cheaply and undervalue their work and the market for other artists.

    Thanks, Jason for giving us something to ponder. It is important to know how things are going for other artists and where we fit in. Do you think we can do this survey 1-2 times/yr. for awhile to see when and how the economy is improving and determine when people are starting to purchase more art again?

  32. I humbly offer my random train of thought.

    How many creatives make a living doing just one thing? How many people in this survey literally do one thing to make money? I’m guessing not many. Can we stop beating ourselves up now for “not making a living” doing one thing?

    I make mixed media paintings, I sew, I’m illustrating a book and starting one of my own, I get occasional commissions, and I practice alternative medicine part time. Does that mean the $$$$s I made last year selling my art in a new city, without gallery representation, was spending money? Nope. Am I not a real artist who’s been making and selling art, off and on, for 25 years? Yes. Do we need this rigid definition of what an ARTIST is in the 21st century?

    I’ve been single most of my adult life with no safety net. I’m heavily in debt from borrowing money for school later in life. I drive a 20 yr old car, my bike is 18, and I don’t own a home. I create quality of life through community, and knowing how most people in the world live, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. I don’t fault housewives for their creativity – go for it!

    Selling art takes perfecting your craft (make a good product) and building relationships with people. Whether you do that online or in person, like any independent business, is what it takes to get people to part with their money. That’s what gallery owners spend their time doing – cultivating relationships. Yes, we live in a Walmart “culture” that values bargains made in China. Even I buy things made in China. But when your art touches someone, they will part the heavens to find a way to buy it. Keep making art, value what you do, and most of all value yourself. It will rub off on others. They are buying a piece of you.

    My words may sound naive to some of you that have shown in galleries, but I remain optimistic. I may not ever get to the “big league”, but I still believe people want to invest in things that touch their souls. Find a way to touch that and you are unstoppable.

    Thank you for your work Jason; your efforts are a gift to us.

  33. A very interesting survey and I thank you for the hard work and thought that went into this.
    20 years ago I was in the top 250,000 – 500,000 group. Which was incredible when I look back.
    In Canada we have had a series of hard knocks GST (Goods and Service Tax) being just one of them. Now I’m down in the 50,000 section. I still have a secretary and a husband working for me and we just make ends meet. Things are tough out there and I don’t believe otherwise. But then when the going gets tough the tough get going and I work a lot harder today, spending less time painting, to keep our income steady than I did 20 years ago.
    Unless I read the graph wrong I didn’t see how much of these sales were original art and how much reproductions. Without reproductions and royalties from sales of other products I would have quit ten years ago.
    Again Thank you for a very interesting post.

    Sue Coleman

  34. Interesting data, and taken with the noted comments, confirms my thirty years as a productive hobby artist. There are many great artists who will not embrace marketing or the constant exposure to rejection that is generally the price of success. Likewise there are lots of ok artists that still sell quantities of art because they like and embrace marketing. I know more than a few A list artists in our small Alaska market that are back working construction jobs to balance the current sagging market. Jason’s numbers confirm what we have all known, hard work, long commitment, and some reasonable skills make for a legitimate opportunity. Like many out there, I have a good job,but fill my weekends and evenings creating art. This has great value for me. And not to sound like a sour grapes , cannot sell anything kind of guy, I have my $25 k plus years. Thanks for all the wisdom and comments

  35. Jason, I participated in this survey and really appreciate your analysis. As someone who has kept up with the data that comes out of NEA (there is an Artists In Workforce pdf available) your statistics comes as no surprise. NEA stats report that there are 2 million artists in the US and of those there are about 230,000 “fine artists” (the others being musicians, actors, performers, etc.) but this number is decreasing. They also report that the average income is about $30,000 per year and has not increased much in 10 years (I think the cost of living has gone up 3-5% a year). Hence it is becoming harder to make a living as an “fine artist” and maybe more artists are doing other things for income.

    The thing that surprised me somewhat is that those who seem to do the best are painters. As a long time photographer I get the idea that if I want to make a better living off sales of my art then I better take up painting …… easy to say, not easy to do, and probably unlikely in my lifetime.

    One thing for the future which I hope you can address is info on what are some of the better places to be located as an artist. The NEA document had some interesting data on regional distributions of artists, what many of us may have guessed….. New York, California, Florida and Texas. They also list 10 metropolitan regions that have the most artists: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis (from most to least artists). It says to me this may be where you want to locate if you are an artist, perhaps that is where the action is, fine arts wise.

  36. Hi Everyone! My first thought is it is just the 80-20% business table that applies in most business.
    There are always people who are more successful because they are more committed with their time and efforts they put into their business, no matter what the business is. In my “other” job of 25 years I worked very hard to get a full book and there were always grumblers sitting in the break room talking about how much “better” I thought I was and how “maybe” they will get “lucky” and score some clients today! I retired from that a few years ago with the intention of painting fulltime, but found that between other things I love to do in life that I am happy not being quite that committed right now, but it doesnt make my art worth any less, so my question to Sue is, What is the real cost of art? because I do about 4-6 shows a year and I find the hardest thing about selling art is pricing, and have read many things on this subject. I will await the answer as I certainly wouldnt want to hurt any
    real art sales.

  37. Thank you for compiling this information. It was most revealing, and encouraging. I am one of those fortunate souls who is in your 2nd pie chart (3% group–artists producing 41 – 50 pieces per year grossing $100k – $249k annually). I have been producing at this level for about 5 years now, exclusively from painting. I do not teach. I do not sell directly. All of my sales are thru 4 galleries in 3 states, and a couple of art consultants. My prices currently range from $4800 – $17,000 per painting; average is @ $7,500. This did not happen overnight. It took years of hard work and many hours in the studio.

    I tell young artists they must ultimately focus on 2 big things: (1)- do good work (most important of all). (2)- get it seen (almost as important). There are many sub-bullets to that; but it all boils down to those two. First and foremost is focusing on the work. What do I mean by “good” work…after all , that is so subjective, right?. Basically, solid work that “connects” with more people than not. It should resonate with them so well that they want to live with it. It is best if your work is distinctive…not a carbon copy of other artists’ work. (I see way too much of that going on). You must spend a lot of time in the studio doing this…strive for a painting a week. You should create work that you are passionate about, and that (hopefully) connects with people.

    I cannot overemphasize the importance of a good gallery. The good ones market your work and bring in the collectors who are able to buy your work. Galleries that rely mostly on walk-in traffic are not the same, I’m afraid. I prefer to focus most of my energy on painting. I agree with Sharon and Patrick Sullivan regarding a positive attitude. Stay upbeat, thank your collectors,…most importantly, do good work and get it seen! Sincere best wishes to all!

    Thanks again for compiling this information, Jason and for presenting it this way.

    Best regards,


  38. Very interesting to read all the comments here! I’ve spent the last three years re-entering the art scene (after a 6-year absence) and “getting my name back out there”. …shows, competitions, multiple galleries, art guilds, demonstrations, blog, Facebook, outdoor venues. A LOT of work yet it seemed like I was tossing a pebble into the ocean! Because of the exposure, though, I have seen a shift from my ‘spec paintings’ selling to more commission work, so I feel the effort is now paying off. I’m afraid that most artists jump in with both feet, don’t get immediate positive response, get frustrated and quit. It takes time and a lot of work to develop. Most small businesses don’t even expect a positive cash flow for five years. I also hooked up with several other artists I met during this process and we now paint together once a week…. fabulous for staying inspired and for growth, as we critique each other. This year I will spend more time in the studio creating and giving my clients more than they expect because they are my best advertising…word of mouth!

  39. Jason, your work on this is astonishing –clear presentation of the breakdown and wonderful feedback for those of us who participated. As a “johnny-come-lately” type of artist trying to realize a life-long dream and establish myself in my “retirement” second career as a visual artist, this information is especially helpful — along with your newsletters and webinars and info from other artists (e.g, these blog comments) – in helping me to set goals and a strategy for achieving them. One of the things that hasn’t been mentioned so far is assessing who is in our support network and systematically setting out to improve the size and depth of out network. Friends, family and painting buddies are invaluable sources of support but don’t equal becoming successful in the business end of the art business — even if thery are our first patrons. Realizing this and feeling the need to “break out” of the mold and get my art act in gear, I hired an art coach (via Jason’s network) who helped me to see the importance of developing my artistic fingerprint, the image I am creating about myself and my work, and associating with other successful artists (not just the hobbiest no matter how good they are) and maintaining a positive energy flow (MANY thanks, Arianne) as well as developing a business plan. I, too, need to work to support myself and my art so I am moving a little more slowly than I would like but as a result of these efforts, I was able to “double” my sales in 2011 over 2010 (although still quite meager) and anticipate that the actions I am taking this year will at least double my 2011 sales. The results of this survey and the blog comments are helping me to put my goals and strategies in prespective so I thank all of you for being candid about what is working and not working and how you feel about it.

  40. Thank you everyone for your insight and valuable comments. This dialog in my eyes is just as valid as the survey. I am a full time artist/teacher, full time mother, full time business owner of a birthday party business (www.GirlieGirlBeads.com) and I work all the time at something. Like many entrepreneurs I have multiple streams of income and I have a spouse who earns a good income. So would you call me a full time artist ? I have been an artist since the age of three, went to art college and beyond. My college experience in the U.K. did not teach me how to become a first class artist (I’m still working on that) or taught me how to run a business (I’m still learning that one also). It has taken me years to hone my skills as an artist and a business person and I understand that the more time you have to give to anything the better it becomes. We have reached an age where everyone is an artist, our society in comparison to past centuries is wealthy, which allows for the luxury of art. I make just as much money teaching art as selling art, actually teaching helps me to sell my work, as I develop a loyal following. What I want to know from the survey is: The age of the artists and how long they have been working at their art careers. How many have had other careers before becoming artists (we have a lot of retired baby boomers who were once engineers and are now painters) What age and demographics are buying art. Ten years ago America was about to see the biggest turn over of wealth in history. So who has the money now, did they inherit it or are they earning it. How much art is being purchased by corporations? Its nearly 11a.m so I’m off to the studio before the kids get home.

  41. So grateful to read all these comments. I find myself both overwhelmed with too many tasks and sometimes get bogged down. I am trying many ways to make a living at an art career, but find that with kids still at home, being a single parent, and dealing with other life issues often distracts my focus on marketing and producing art work. Still I am keeping on because it feeds my soul. Teaching does help with the income as well. Thanks to all who responded and to Jason who is a great support to all of us.

  42. Thanks, Jason, a great idea to do this survey — some very thought-provoking results! Also the comments from other artist are quite enlightening. Others may have mentioned this, but I would love to see a question on how long someone has been an artist (maybe defined as producing multiple artworks to sell), broken down by earnings. The other point that really intrigues me is the percentage of their working time that artists spend creating art, versus time spent on marketing, again broken down by sales. Marketing would include everything from approaching and cultivating galleries, to researching and applying for shows, writing up bios/resumes, doing demonstrations, researching other artists, pricing, designing websites, photographing work, etc. Thanks to all!

  43. This was extremely informative and will push me into a new direction. Although I did not do bad as a 100% self employed artist last year, I took this survey, I am not doing what I need to support myself. Still, I am in the 15%. I have high hopes that 2012 will be a better year, but it will not just happen. I have to go out there and find it. The statistics prove that an artist needs to be highly productive, creating superior quality artworks , do self marketing, do shows, be in several reputable galleries and be out there socializing big time. Even teach art to share the knowledge and make a side income. We can not live in a vacuum like the old masters who painted for the Vatican or wealthy Italian families. Dedication and discipline are key, utilizing every minute of the day to build the career as a respected collected artist like Steven DaLuz mentioned above in a comment. Steven, your work speaks for itself, it is incredible.
    Time is fleeting but it is also there for us artists who are willing to apply our uniqueness and never give up in the face of failure.

  44. I thing the survey pretty much correlates to life in general. There are the 1 and 2 percenters, then there are the rest of us. Also, something to keep in mind that the survey doesn’t directly address, is that in each of the dollar ranges, the average price per unit has a direct correlation to the size of the market for that price range. In example, if the average price for your work is $750, you would fall into a market of buyers that typically buy in that price range. So to earn, say $75,000, you would need to produce/sell more. But there are more potential buyers in that market. Where as if your average price per unit is $10,000, it clearly means you don’t have to produce/sell as much, but there are also fewer buyers in that market that can affort the higher end pieces. The quality of art should have a similar correlation.
    From a market competition standpoint, we are really only competing within our market ranges. It would be interesting to see some data on avg price point ranges vs dollars earned to see, within certain markets, who is kickin’ butt and who isn’t. If someone is in a lower price point market, but are earning $50,000, they have figured it out and need to share that info! Likewise, if someone is selling at an avg of $10,000 per unit but only earned $20,000, they aren’t working too hard at it.

  45. One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post. The high end artists that make the most income also produce fewer paintings by design. This is to keep the demand higher than the available works. But that strategy only works for the elite. Also, since the market is so small at that end of the scale, it puts huge pressure on the artists to only offer their absolute best works.

  46. Jason, you are very special.
    Thanks for the surveys and posting the comments.
    After a life in graphic design and magazine photography, I’ve retired and am painting seriously .
    My paintings are better now with more life experience. But, I’m racing the clock.
    I hope you investigate artists’ success at internet selling, website uses and juried art shows.
    And, how does the cost of shipping to a gallery in another city affect the price of ones art?

  47. This survey, and the comments, are very enlightening. One thing I would add, I’ve heard a statistic that it takes about 5 years for any small business to start turning a profit. I myself am working full-time on my art. I spend about a third of my time marketing, and doing other things related to the business that aren’t painting directly–my taxes, going to openings, etc. I have a marketing and graphic design background, and have a more pragmatic, long-term approach when it comes to selling my art. So, I think it would be helpful to artists (and art supporters) to realize that it takes a lot of hard work and time, not just to produce a quality product, but to continue to grow the audience for that product. And that product is both who you present yourself to be as an artist to the world, and your work itself. I wish everyone the best of luck! P.S. Shameless plug: I have a Facebook page here http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jennifer-Stone/34515617191and I also have an art listserve; email me if you’d like to be on it js att jennifersartgallery.com. I have an Etsy page here where my art can be purchased http://www.etsy.com/shop/jennifersartgallery.

  48. Oh, Jason,
    You’ve done it again. Your dedication to artists, and supplying them with nitty gritty information, is remarkable and I’m honored to have you as a colleague in this unique corner of the world. Whereas “life coaches” number over 50,000 in North America, art career coaches (and the miniscule hybrids thereof) barely break the two-digit numbers! (I can only think of about 9, at the moment).

    Besides the budget challenges of many artists, there is also a mind-set that keeps artists in a constant “I can do it myself” frame of mind. And, as those of us who live in the same entrepreneurial world as artists know, there are few careers that are truly solitary affairs.

    What fascinates me is the unique journey, with recurring patterns, that the top-selling artists exhibit. Your survey is a fantastic resource and I’m intrigued to see how it stacks up with the artists I’m interviewing in my “Successful Artist Series,” which will be part of a new, year round training program.

  49. I am curious about the quality of the works being sold by these artists. As has been pointed out earlier in the discussion, there are a lot of artists out there making only mediocre or poorly-crafted works. Someone also pointed out how the “elites” make fewer paintings by design. I too see this trend but argue that it is not by “design”. A lot of very good oil painters only make 6-8 paintings per year, because that’s all they can really *make*. Their work is rigorous and time-consuming, so they really only have the time and abilities to make a few paintings per year. And thus, since the works are better, they sell for higher prices… Does anyone else see this connection?

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