Study Finds That Artists Are Happy Being Artists

Maybe this is what van Gogh looked like when he was happy (via)
Maybe this is what van Gogh looked like when he was happy (via Jared Quinton on Artsy)

Stereotypically, artists are known for being moody, brooding, depressed types. But a new study of working artists in Europe finds that they’re actually much happier with their jobs than their non-artist counterparts.

A team led by Bruno S. Frey, a distinguished professor of behavioral science at the University of Warwick, looked at previous happiness research, including the European Value Studies from 1999 and 2008 and data from the British (2001–08) and Swiss (1999–2010) Household Panels. They looked specifically at answers to the question, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your job?’”

The results, presented in a paper titled “Happiness in the arts—International evidence on artists’ job satisfaction” in the journal Economic Letters, show that artists (identified as “individuals with an artistic occupation”) in 49 European countries are, on the whole, quite satisfied with their chosen path, despite the fact that their economic conditions tend to be fair from ideal:

Economic research … suggests that the objective conditions under which artists live are depressing. Artists suffer a substantial earnings penalty even when individual characteristics such as level of education and age are controlled for. Unemployment is almost1.5 times higher than in other professions. The artistic labor market is characterized by permanent excess supply—there is always a pool of young and talented artists waiting for their breakthrough,which in most cases does not happen.

Don’t we know it. And yet, the paper finds that, on a scale of 1 (totally unhappy) to 10 (totally happy), European artists average around 7.7; non-artists are down at 7.3. That may not seem like a big difference, but the authors say it’s statistically significant. The outlier is the UK, where, for some reason (could it be the rain?), the gap is much narrower: 5.49 for artists; 5.45 for non. The researchers went on to control for income, working hours, gender, age, and differing personally traits and still found that “higher job satisfaction in the artistic sector is a robust phenomenon.”

So, naturally, the question is why? The authors point out that self-employment generally corresponds with greater job satisfaction, and many artists are self-employed. Although the risks of unemployment in that situation are high, the working hours are flexible, which brings greater happiness. The authors also point to a different approach in attitudes towards work:

Artists view the process of working to be of special importance … They particularly value the opportunity to use initiative in their job, the fact that they have an interesting job, have a job which meets their abilities, and that they can learn new skills on the job. These aspects relate to procedural aspects of work rather than to what is produced. In contrast, artists pay less importance to other aspects, such as job security.

But if artists are happier with their profession, why or how are they also prone to depression and suicide? The authors suggest that maybe “artists, while exhibiting high job satisfaction on average, over time experience particularly large fluctuations in subjective wellbeing,” aka exhibit a tendency towards bipolarity. That seems possible, but there’s clearly more to it. We await the next study.

h/t Pacific Standard

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