Wasted Rita has a whole selection of hilarious works exploring the life of the broke artist like this one, “I am…” (via ritabored.blogspot.com)

Tonight, the group W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), will release the results of the artists survey they conducted with Artists Space, a gallery in Soho. The survey found that 58% of the nearly 1,000 artists interviewed (including visual and performing artists) received no compensation at all for exhibiting or presenting their work at nonprofits in New York. In the weeks prior to these survey results being released I had been conducting my own, informal survey of the artists participating in this year’s Whitney Biennial, and found that none of those exhibited in the galleries that I exchanged emails with were paid to include their work — arguably one of the most important exhibitions of young and contemporary artists in the city. At most they had some of the costs of bringing the work to the museum covered, such as transporting or installing the work. But according to the W.A.G.E. survey, 58% of the artists they surveyed didn’t even have their expenses reimbursed. What W.A.G.E.’s survey finally makes transparent, is a reality that most artists have known for many years — by and large, most cultural institutions in the United States do not pay artists when exhibiting or presenting their work.

Many of the people I tell this to have no idea that artists aren’t paid for exhibiting. Others shrug their shoulders. They assume that artists make lots of money through gallery sales or big grants and prizes, so it doesn’t matter that they don’t get paid to exhibit. In fact, that’s the rationale of most museums. They argue that the exposure artists receive through exhibitions will set them on the path to financial reward. But the realities of life as an artist are quite different from these assumptions. Research by the NEA shows that artists across all fields earn much less than other professionals, with dancers earning a median income, including non-arts earnings, of only $15,000 in 2005 (museums, including the Whitney, are now regularly including dance and performance works in many of their major exhibitions). And women artists earn only 65% of male artists. Further, research by the sociologist Pierre-Michel Menger confirms that the arts in Europe and the US are a winner-take-all market, in which a select few artists are given the majority of the money.

When it comes to questions of artists and money, you’ll often hear the name Damien Hirst. He’s a favorite example for many of the potential wealth an artist can achieve (as well as the corrupt intentions of contemporary visual artists), given his record-breaking sales such as the 2008 auction of his works that raked in over $200 million. Even the prominent art philosopher Denis Dutton evoked Hirst for those very purposes in an OpEd for The New York Times. But nobody ever mentions the name Charles Saatchi — the art collector and dealer who is among the primary reasons that so many people know Hirst’s name and work.

Wasted Rite, “Bankrupt Is the New Awesome” is on sale on her great website. (via ritabored.blogspot.com)

A significant player in global advertising since the Mad Men days, Saatchi bought up large amounts of work by a set of young artists working in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when their work could be bought cheaply. Then in 1997 he launched the infamous exhibition, Sensations, filled with work hand-selected (and owned) by this man who spent his career learning precisely how to press people’s buttons through advertising. As was reported in the Times, Saatchi himself donated funds to make sure the exhibition would go forward, while also actively stirring the pot of controversy building in the media (i.e. free advertising) around some of the works on display, which included a portrait of the Madonna by Chris Ofili that was made up of, among other things, pornographic imagery and elephant dung, as well as another portrait by Marcus Harvey of the convicted murderer Myra Hindley created using the handprints of children. Not long after that, Saatchi went on to sell a number of the works at auction for record prices—money that went back to Saatchi in that instance, not the artists. In a climate when we’re looking more closely at all the ways that people of great wealth are able to manipulate certain markets to their own benefit, it’s worth noting that this kind of thing goes on regularly in some segments of the art world.

And if Damien Hirst is so many people’s poster boy for the visual arts world, it’s hard not to notice that he’s white, British and male. As indicated above, the arts are often far worse than most fields when it comes to achieving parity for women, as well as minorities.

Another response to artists not being paid is that artists chose to live a life of poverty, so they can’t expect to be paid for their work. Or an extension of that thinking — that artists are elitist and privileged and make obscure work that nobody cares about, so they shouldn’t be paid. Or the Neoconservative version of these same assertions — that it’s a free-market economy and if they don’t get paid it’s because nobody wants to pay.

But, in the case of the Whitney Biennial, for instance, we’re talking about artists being shown in a prominent cultural institution. According to the Art Newspaper, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the Guggenheim together attracted close to 10 million visitors in 2010 — more than the entire population of the five boroughs. And all of New York’s top art museums either request or require that visitors pay to view the works on display. These are artists who have been recognized in their field and are having their work viewed by large numbers of people, who, by and large, are paying to view it. The artists who generate the work are the reason we all show up and that museums are able to find funding, yet they often go unpaid.

The fact is that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) devotes less than 2% of its meager budget to direct grants to individual artists. State arts agencies spend only 3% of their grant dollars on individual artists. The bulk of philanthropy in the arts goes to only 2% of the nation’s arts institutions, who are among those with the largest budgets. And we know that many of those institutions don’t pay the artists whose work they show. Everybody keeps shifting the responsibility of sustaining artists (the real lifeblood of the arts) to some other group; meanwhile, the money keeps finding its way into the coffers of the few who hold the most power and the purse strings.

As the NEA said in its own 2008 report, Artists in the Workforce: “The time has come to insist on an obvious but overlooked fact—artists are workers.”

W.A.G.E.: 2010 Artists Survey Results Presentation and Open Forum takes place tonight, Friday, April 20 at 7pm at Artists Space (55 Walker Street, Soho, Manhattan)

Alexis Clements is a writer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She recently started a podcast, The Answer is No, focused on artists sharing stories about challenging the conditions under which they are...

32 replies on “New Data Reveals Artists Aren’t Gettin’ Paid”

  1. Dear Ms. Clements, thanks for this wonderfully thought-provoking piece.  While I am not a professional artist, I have worked for many years in the arts economy as a fabricator and installer.  I’ve often been in the odd position of making money while the artists hiring me were _losing_ money, even on commissions in six or seven figures.  What I have always found in trying to discuss this with people is that most Americans have no reference point for art as a livelihood.  We can visualize the artist as a millionaire celebrity or as a destitute martyr to their vision, but not as a member of the working- or middle- class.

  2. It is not a good thing for artists not to be paid…. But we all make our career choices and some careers earn far less than others. An interesting article about this issue for dancers is here: http://olinewman.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/rich-dancer-poor-dancer/

  3. I am a painter.  I am doing what I love.  When I stop making art for that reason and start conforming to the demands of galleries and collectors….I know I’ve lost the magic!   I would love to make a living at my art…..but, when art becomes work….it isn’t art anymore, and I struggle to create.  Sponteniety loses.  This is why so many artists fall by the wayside.  They get tired of doing the same old same old.  Because the galleries promote artists in one direction.  A portrait artist, a still life artist, a landscape artist.  We are all so much more than that!   Nowadays, I think the internet offers artists and consumers a real way to touch base one to one and sell online…without depending on a gallery or museum to promote your work.  I think galleries and museums are fine…but they play into each others needs.  Galleries promote the up and coming artists…museums get the drift and give glamorous exhibitions to living artists.  And, of course dead artists too.  It’s like a Ponzi scheme.  And, of course male artists get most of the attention….because most gallery owners are male.  It’s a suck up world….

    1. I’ve always been curious why female gallery owners and collectors don’t focus on showing or collecting more female artists. You look at the programming at Marian Goodman, Mary Boone or others and I always wonder why their programming skews male too. Any thoughts on this?

      1. I don’t know why female gallery owners and collectors don’t showcase more female artists and  I don’t know why male gallery owners or collectors don’t either!

      2. As a woman, I appreciate the sentiment, but that’s just as sexist a response as the arbitrary exclusion of women from galleries and museums. We should be buying and promoting art that’s good and not selecting based on gender, race, religion or sexual preference. If I owned a gallery and I had a choice, say, between Kara Walker and Martin Puryear, I’d go with Puryear because I think his work is much more interesting and in line with my hypothetical program. For similar reasons, I don’t care for identity art or art promoted based on media (which is almost always craft, not art) it’s just art and shouldn’t try to get over based on identity or medium. I do agree that broad statements about the “art world” are not particularly useful.

        1. I’m sorry you don’t like my question (not a “response”). I was expecting someone to bring up the institutional issues but you went straight to labeling and assuming you could infer based on incomplete information about my intent. I’m sad you chose to try and alienate an ally instead of addressing the issue.

          1. At the (under)regulated panel discussion at FIT, John Powers suggested the MoMA be regulated by Title IX.  This was rejected by all the women on the panel.  The response is that museum acquisitions should be based on merit alone.

        2. Interesting response. It’s difficult to believe that the art of women just so happens to be not good. The fact that women artists (or queer artists or Jewish artists) can be viewed as a monolith suggests that prejudice is at work – that either the work is not that different but is devalued or that the work actually has something different to say that people don’t want to hear.

        3. This is a familiar argument: All artists are equal, but, it just so happens that men make good art and that artwork also sells better.

          Intellectual abstraction, ambiguity and medium-specificity is cool (and sterile) because Contemporary art has had a long distaste and embarassment for the personal and the political. That’s how the coded nature of contemporaneous aesthetics functions.

      3. Female artists are also thought of as market risky – one cannot make as much money with women. Look at the careers of Hirst and Whiteread. Her resume is impressive and has won the same awards but he’s still worth more on the art market. 

      4. Unfortunately, art by women and minorities are always going to be viewed from the lens of the Western canon and even when women’s work has nothing to do with being a women/identity their market value is inexplicably lower. I can only think of parallels between economics and the art market: speculation on the value of female-authored art is lower. I’ve been on a few gallery programming committees and I also suppose that identity artwork is somehow viewed with a distaste because it does not posit a viewpoint that interpellates male/Anglocentric/ dealers or collectors.

  4. Thank you for exposing the problem of the Sensations exhibit no one in the art world troubled themselves to raise.  While excoriating Guliani for attempting to yank public funding from the Brooklyn Museum, the art world –which always sings in chorus when threatened by conservatives or the hoi polloi– never felt slightly irritated that public funds were used to underwrite Saatchi’s marketing campaign for his own private collection.  

    What is the art world’s argument to justify using public funds in this way?  

    1. I think it’s dangerous to think this was a unified thing from the “art world.” Like any group the “art world” is diverse. Some people did complain at the time but with the lack of other funding sources it is hard for institutions to say no to major exhibition funders. As we see now the funding problems of the Brooklyn Museum have not stopped. It appears to be a chronic issue.

      1. I’m exaggerating a bit for affect.  The art world is certainly diverse depending on how you carve it up.  However, the on issues of what is seen to be censorship and threats to public funding, I’d say there is a pretty strong chorus.  A more recent example is the Wojnarowicz piece being pulled from the Smithsonian exhibit.  I think a much more interesting discussion could have taken place about the dynamics and competing interests of this episode, but it was mostly just shrill protests about perceived censorship.   

        1. Excellent points! I also wish the criticism wasn’t only relegated to public institutions. It creates the perception that somehow private institutions are somehow doing things better, which I think is false.

  5. I think it was only some time last year that I realized that artists in the US don’t generally get paid exhibition fees, and it BLEW MY MIND. In Canada, we’ve had CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens) since 1968 and their work has assured that every artist exhibiting in a public/non-profit institution gets paid exhibition fees. Even a powerless critic like myself gets a standard fee for giving a talk. Why does this not exist in the US?

  6. Check out CARFAC: http://www.carfac.ca/

    Federal Status of the Artist Certification

    In 1999, CARFAC was certified by the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal (CAPPRT) as the collective bargaining representative for visual and media artists in Canada, as recognized by the federal Status of the Artist legislation.

    What is Status of the Artist?

    The federal Status of the Artist Act (1992, c.33)
    recognizes the important role of the creator in society and promotes an
    understanding of the unique manner in which artists work. As such, it
    strives to improve the economic, social and political status of
    professional artists through fair compensation for their work as well as
    the implementation of social benefits that other laborers enjoy. The
    legislation attempts to place artists on an equal footing with other
    professionals in the labour market and to earn a more equitable share of
    the profits on their work within the public art economy. As a result,
    the Status legislation has significant implications for labour law, contract law, copyright law, etc.

    It also allows for the certification of trade unions and professional
    associations to help regulate remuneration and working conditions. In
    1997, Status of the Artist legislation conferred the right of
    artists to collectively bargain at the federal level. This means that a
    certified organization has the right to negotiate on behalf of
    self-employed artists within their jurisdiction on a variety of issues
    including the implementation of standard contracts and wage rates, as
    well as pensions, unemployment support, and benefits that are enjoyed by
    employees in other fields.

    Currently, the national association of CARFAC and its partner, RAAV,
    are certified by CAPPRT to represent visual artists in Quebec and the
    rest of Canada. This means that CARFAC National and RAAV can negotiate
    collective agreements with all federal institutions such as the National
    Gallery of Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International
    Trade (including embassies), the Canadian Museum of Civilization, etc.
    Once a signed federal agreement is reached with an institution and is
    ratified by the membership of the certified organization, it is legally
    binding and will set a major precedent for other federal and even
    provincial institutions.

  7. CARFAC Minimum Fee Schedule

    The CARFAC Minimum Fee Schedule is available on the Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective website.
    Since 1968, CARFAC has issued its exhibition fee schedules. These
    schedules were developed from rates established by Jack Chambers and
    Tony Urquhart in 1968. They are updated yearly through negotiation and
    usage, and reflect increases in the cost of living. All fees are
    considered minimum payments for the use of the copyrights and/or the
    professional services of visual and media artists.
    The payment of the Exhibition Right for the public exhibition of
    artistic production became part of federal copyright law in 1988. This
    exhibition fee is payment for the use of work created after June 7, 1988
    in an exhibition in a public space where the gallery receives public
    funds. The exhibition fee only applies when the artwork shown is not
    being actively presented for sale or hire. When art works created after
    June 7, 1988 in a gallery’s permanent collection are exhibited, a
    copyright exhibition fee is required to be paid. Copyright fees and
    royalties are subject to GST; the GST is not included in the listed
    In accordance with the 5 year agreement
    between CARFAC-RAAV, CAMDO, and the CMA, signed in November 2007, the
    fee schedule will be subject to a 3% yearly increase. The fees for 2009
    have been adjusted to reflect that increase, and for more information
    about what the fees will be from 2010 to 2012, please contact CARFAC or CARCC.


  8. i’m afraid there’s a lack of solidarity within the artist community where payment is concerned. if there was a union, and a boycott by the successful artists in support of the others, galleries and museums would be empty and things would change as fast as you can say ‘jack knife’! all the other artists, whether bands, actors, dancers, poets reading their work, musicians etc. get PAID for their work. only the visual artists are willing to work for naught.
    but it’s a discussion that has been going on for ages and all it is, is a background noise that no one takes seriously…

  9. Thanks for posting this. I’m a full-time professional sculptor who has advocated for artists for many years. It is an educational issue and more people need to understand the parasitic nature of the current art world/market that, echoing our economies, favors the 1%. Artists  are seldom motivated as much by money as intangibles and our culture does not know how to appropriately value endeavors which subtly nurture or blatantly challenge the status quo.But it is the responsibility of those who value art such as artists to change expectations and insist on being treated as well as other contributing members of society. The generosity of artists is legendary, as giving is part of the expressive arts, but such virtue has been exploited. It’s long past tie for artists to stand together and set some minimal standards for compensation such as receiving a percentage of all charitable auction proceeds, consigning work only to galleries which can assure minimal annual sales, requiring exhibit stipends or that non-profits purchase work if there is no exhibit stipend, there are MANY ways to help the situation. But semi-pro’s/amateurs with other means of support often unwittingly undermine the profession of art without realizing that by giving something away (or even paying for the privilege to be shown/heard), it devalues everyone’s work. And I believe we need always to have a few people who wake up each morning eager to put their first and best energies towards creating art. Of course, getting artists to agree on how to set standards=herding cats.

  10. get paid a percentage of entrance fee to  museum.  simple, like a band gets a piece of the door

  11. 1.   This is a well written article that says much that needs to be said.
    1a.  Very few people given these ‘economic’ times care or should.
    2.   There is a huge difference between the Art Market, and Fine Art.  This is not often
          enough discussed or properly defined.  Please do so… Thanks…..
    3.   Art has traditionally reflected the culture it inhabits.  What we see and experience today
          is no different.  The influence of the much discussed 1% and a global economy ( inclusive
          of the growing impact of the Pacific Rim and South America), the
          media, the game changing possibilities of the internet, and its applications, and
          technologies etc…. has all utterly transformed how the idea of art can  be seen
    4.   It occurs to me, that fundimentally and in a very short period of time the
          very reasons many of us engaged with Fine Art have all but vanished. Time moves
          forward not backward…  something lost something gained. We must adapt.
    4a. It also occurs to me that the heirarchy and value of being a Fine Artist, are also in a rapid
          process of transformation.  What community and the culture at large will call a Fine
         Artist in time will look nothing like what a Fine Artist has historically looked like.  This is
         already happening.
    5.  As A Fine Artist, I thank you for reading this agreeing or disagreeing…. 

  12. So, you’re saying that artists should be paid just for existing? Can you hear the ridiculousness of what your article advocates? Nobody OWES you a living. If your art doesn’t sell, it’s not the public’s fault, or even the fault of the organization sponsoring the venue. The first paragraph of the article states: 
    “The survey found that 58% of the nearly 1,000 artists interviewed (including visual and performing artists) received no compensation at all for exhibiting or presenting their work at nonprofits in New York.”
    Non-profits? They legally can’t make self-aggrandizing money, but they’re supposed to pay artists for just displaying their work? Such a “pay the artists to display” premise is stupid on its face!  Any shopkeeper knows that “displays” are for showing his wares, but no sales are guaranteed. There is no argument here.

  13. I remember looking at grant applications decades ago and feeling discouraged because I needed to already have published a book or already have a resume of galleries and awards in order to qualify for a grant, as opposed to just sending samples of my work to get a grant to get started. I thought the NEA should be supporting new artists and writers with grants.

    Now that I know the percentage of grants that go to museums, galleries, exhibits and so on without paying the artists, those rules make a bit more sense to me – they’re trying to close gaps for people already full time in the arts. But there should be those grants for entry level people. That’s what would genuinely stimulate the economy, turn underemployed and unemployed people into taxpayers and launch small businesses.

    I like that sensible observation. Our work is real work. It takes years of training and skill to do it well, no matter how it looks to an amateur. Most people who think they could do it without any training find out otherwise the first time they try. A few find out how much they’ve already learned on their own and become aware that yes, they could do this for a living. Discovering that is something that could help the economy. 

    Thanks for discussing the history of Saatchi’s influence. It’s bothered me all my life that certain avant garde styles get called original when they’re derivative of shock art so familiar it’s not shocking any more. Or that art of value that isn’t “Shock art” with real originality gets ignored. 

    I’ve taught art and writing without any credentials other than showing before and after student works to prospective students. I believe that there are good middle class art careers and that it’s a good way of life, we should get paid a decent amount of money for good work – including accessible works that non-experts enjoy, value and collect. The truth is that half the art markets I know of don’t seem to count as fine art markets even though there is a lot of real demand. I believe in supporting public museums but surely there should be support for individual artists as well, especially in hard times.

    Creative work is productive. It creates value from time and effort directly. It can be green and clean. In these times, with both environmental and economic concerns, that old time Puritanical response of eliminating anything pleasurable or hinting at luxury is dangerous to society as a whole. If life isn’t worth living a host of massive public problems result. The arts are a powerful element of why life is worth living.

  14. Great article! I am a professional artist but i still don’t make a living from it even after 10 years of constant work and study, but it is my passion.

     A friend of mine is about to go to court to try and get what is owed to her by a gallery, after her successful exhibition. Artists are so often taken advantage of. We are charged huge fees to exhibit and then often pay commission on top of that. I’m having an exhibition in Sydney in June and it has cost me several thousand dollars just for the hire of the gallery.

    The question is; how can we change these issues? How can we , as artists, gain more respect for what we do?
    could be an interesting discussion!

    I guess we need to have more of a ‘voice’ and also support each other when ever we can.
    thanks for the article 🙂

  15. “new media” artist-curator here. I really appreciate the statistics and research put into artists and labor. I’m not sure what to make of it in terms of existing and ongoing institutional “constraints” (and obv there will be people telling me they aren’t really there). it is simply unsatisfactory to say that women’s work is just not as Good. As a curator I try to make an extra effort by doing more research and programming 50/50 in terms of gender, including women who make strong work that fit the curatorial scope. It takes longer but it totally works out; I feel curators from all walks are just quick to jump at anyone who’s trendy and pre-mainstream.

    “monetizing” digital art is also an ongoing problematic within the internet art community in terms of ethics of openness, populism and gratuity on the web. I don’t see anything wrong with it if you get to make what you like and somehow get paid for it. I’ve been thinking artists need to think of alternative ways to make money such as sessional teaching, grantwriting, selling dinky crafts on Etsy, web design/web development or through consultation for companies.

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