Artists Not Doing So Badly After All


Presumably, we all are aware that people with college degrees earn on the average two-and-a-half times that earned by those with only high school diplomas and that college graduates have suffered less from the recent recession than those who don’t hold a Bachelor’s degree. But is any of this true for college graduates who majored in art or just for those who earned degrees in science and technology?

According to a recent study published by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, titled “What It’s Worth: The Economic Value of College Majors,” artists haven’t done all that badly, earning an annual average $44,000 and suffering only eight percent unemployment. “Turning that around, you see it is really good news,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, professor and director of the Center on Education and the Workforce who was one of the three authors of the report. “Ninety-two percent of them are employed.” He noted that artists (grouped in clusters of designers, filmmakers and photographers, musicians, those in drama and theater arts, and others in the categories of fine arts, studio arts, visual and performing arts) generally have lower expectations than graduates of other programs, “so they tend to be more content to be employed and earning enough to live on.”

grads2More grumbling, he claimed, has come from architects and engineers who had experienced a strong demand for their services during the housing boom of the 1990s and up until 2007, subsequently finding themselves unemployed for varying periods of time and taking lower salaried jobs since then. “A lot of it is your expectations,” Carnevale said.

Drawing from U.S. Census figures, the Center looked a variety of employment fields, such as agriculture, business, education, engineering, health industry, journalism, law, social services and technology, and the report concluded that “for most students, when asked whether to go to college, the answer should be a resounding ‘yes.’”

Those with degrees in the filmmaking, photography, fine arts and design fields (a median of $45,000-46,000) tended to do a bit better than those with baccalaureates in music and drama (a median of $40,000-42,000). One-quarter of those who majored in the arts are employed in their field, while 14 percent work in some management category (in business, government or a nonprofit organization), 12 percent work in sales, another 12 percent are employed in an office and eight percent work in education.

The arts accounted for 4.6 percent of all majors, and 91 percent of the graduates are White. (Another seven percent are Asian, seven percent are Latino and five percent are African-American.) Women earned 61 percent of the arts degrees, although they tended to lag behind their male counterparts in salaries by an average of $8,000. As a group, women earned $2,000 less per year than African-Americans as a group who majored in the arts.

The findings of this report supports a 2010 research study of approximately 13,000 graduates of performing and visual arts programs who received their degrees between 1990 and 2009, which found that the overwhelming majority of them were employed, predominantly in fields related to their professional training, and that most of them were satisfied with their lives and careers. The study, conducted by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, a joint program of Indiana and Vanderbilt universities, was based on completed questionnaires by graduates of more than 150 arts programs at liberal arts colleges, state universities and independent art schools around the country.

Of those 13,000 individuals, 2,817 had undergraduate or graduate degrees from college studio art programs, according to Steven J. Tepper, associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University who organized the study, and almost 83 percent of them worked the majority of their time in some arts occupation, such as art teaching or in a nonprofit arts organization. “Artists are plucky, resourceful people,” he said, “and most of them are doing what their training trained them to do.” Sixty percent of these fine artists work more than one job, “but they find what they put together satisfying. It is often said that ‘those who can’t teach,’ but based on this survey we found that many artists do teach and are happy teaching.” In addition, more than one third of the survey respondents reported working full-time as professional artists.

One myth may be that artists hate school (rote learning, too confining, artists are misunderstood), but the survey found that visual and performing artists generally had quite positive things to say about the colleges and universities where they received undergraduate and graduate degrees. For instance, 37 percent reported being “somewhat satisfied” and 45 percent were “very satisfied” with the degree of “freedom and encouragement to take risks” at these schools; another 87 percent were either somewhat or very satisfied with their schools’ instructors; 75 percent claimed that their school helped them “quite a bit” or “very much” in terms of “thinking creatively,” and 73 percent would go to the same school again if they had the option to start over. The only area in which there was an even mix of responses along the spectrum of “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied” was in career advising.

By Daniel Grant

One response

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