The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, DC (image via Wikimedia)

A ruling by the United States Tax Court last week held that an artist employed as a professor could still claim tax deductions on her independent output, the New York Times reported. The case, which centered around Hunter College professor Susan Crile, affirmed that the right to claim an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) income tax deduction on expenses related to your status as a professional artist is not jeopardized by low sales or other full time employment (in this case, teaching). The IRS had argued that Crile’s claim to be both an artist and a teacher was an “artificial” distinction, since her work was produced as a corollary of her full-time job, not as an independent avocation, and could therefore not be grounds for deductions.

Though the ruling ultimately only affects a small number of artists — artists who teach or have another form of primary employment whose duties involve making art, while at the same time producing and selling art independently — Crile’s success in claiming the deduction cements, by some accounts, the tax security of artists. Yale School of Art dean Robert Storr told the Times that the right to claim deductions on such expenses was “one of the last remaining areas where the federal government cuts artists any slack to allow them to do what they do.”

Though a good deal of successful artists are also full-time academics, including some who earn much larger sums than Crile, it would appear that the Hunter College professor’s case was unique. And although she made relatively little off her politically-inclined prints and paintings on an annualized basis (just under $16,000 per year from 1971 to 2013), her career earnings of $667,902 still place her at the top of the financial echelon of working artists. That the IRS initially refused to allow her to claim deductions on this work, which has been collected at the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museums, among others, seems ever the more strange, and the success of her defense all the more justified.

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

9 replies on “Judge Overturns IRS on Artist Tax Deductions”

  1. Tad Crawford, in his Legal Guide for the Visual Artist, discusses two other cases with similar outcomes. It would be interesting to know how many such Tax Court rulings are out there.

  2. I’m not sure that her case was so “unique” — in the field of music, many full-time professors earn significant additional income from performing regularly with symphony orchestras and opera productions.

    1. In context, what I meant is that the IRS’s claim against her was unique (though probably not singular): that she got in trouble for the deductions. The first part of that sentence points out exactly what you say, which is the income stream academics in the arts can have on the side from their work.

      1. OK, but you also said “the ruling ultimately only affects a small number of artists.” You seem to downplay the relevance of this ruling when in fact it appears to apply to, or at least set a precedent for, many artists and musicians. Perhaps there are technicalities that set this case apart and we should all still be concerned that we could be on the wrong side of the law when filing taxes for work as artists as “self-employed” while also holding a full-time job in the arts. If that’s the case, I’d love to see a more in-depth exploration of this issue that affects so many of us.

    1. The NFL’s non-profit status has nothing to do with the IRS beyond filing paperwork that was signed in 1941. The law as defined by Congress allows the NFL (the league itself, not the individual teams) to register as a trade association, which it is, in essence, and therefore gain tax-exempt status. Each of the 32 franchises pays taxes on its profits.

  3. Whatever makes the miserable morons working for this fascist hellhole of a gummint look dumber than they are is ok with me. We’re fleeing for a sentient and sane european land where the government is actually responsible about and responsive to its citizens. Imagine. The IRS must be staffed solely by brain-damaged psychopaths, kind of like the majorities in congress.

  4. The decision by a judge to allow an artist to deduct expenses for his paintings, even if his main income is from teaching, reminds me of what my father, an artist who taught at universities, said to the IRS when he was audited and told that, since his main income was his professor’s salary, his smaller income from the sale of art should be considered merely a “hobby.” “Wait, wait, wait,” my father said, “No, no, no. We are going to have to change the way I file these deductions and call them medical deductions for the disease of being an artist.” http://www.provincetownarts.org

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