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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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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

8 replies on “Study Finds That Artists Are Happy Being Artists”

  1. Hilarious. Was just thinking tonight after a vsit to this berg’s art district what a pathetic pursuit it is. Art is alot like sex. We lust for nubility. But if I didn’t have it to occupy my mind this pathetic archipelego would have driven me nuts years ago.

  2. 7.7 job happiness/satisfaction out of 10 versus 7.3/10 is not much of a difference considering that we are not measuring the satisfaction of “failed” artists as they move in/on to other occupations. People in Europe are just generally happy with their jobs it seems.

  3. watched a long interview with mike kelley the other day. he said the only people who hate art more than americans are the british. it got a laugh from the audience but he may be right [and i think he was serious]. just looking quickly at the study findings, it seems the UK artists are well below that of artists on the continent in satisfaction. gotta wonder, must be nice to live somewhere your pursuit is [more broadly] valued?

  4. I suspect that serious artists would never assent to participate in such a study, as they’d instantly see through the absurdity of all attempts to quantify happiness, just as they see through the modern attempt to quantify intelligence, and just as they see through the modern fetish with quantifying all of reality and indeed excluding from reality that which is immune from quantification. But perhaps I’m describing serious philosophers, not artists.

    Notice that my words above apply only to serious artists, not the herd of con-artists today who call themselves artists and litter modern galleries with their “artistry.” By the way, is there anything more absurd than the notion of a “tattoo artist”? Maybe the idea of a celebrity chef is only slightly more ridiculous.

    1. How about Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal'” or Michael Jordan’s “The Art of the Dunk.” Everyone wants to be recognized as an artist, but very few want to live the life.

    2. Your elitist views are outdated.

      “Serious” artists know better than to create arbitrary hierarchies to make themselves feel better than their peers. Tattoo art takes as much thought and dexterity as drawing with pen and ink, and is as valid as any other medium.

      1. Your chronological snobbery is typical of today’s legions of “freethinkers” processed by the myth of progress, as is your belief that skill is a sufficient, rather than merely necessary but insufficient, criterion of true artistry.

  5. The gap between artists and non-artists satisfaction is exactly the same (7.7/7.3 and 5.49/5.45), that is 0.4. Is the difference between continental europeans and british that exists. The analysis is lame. Bipolarity? C’mon.

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