Just because top incomes in the arts exceed those in other professions does not mean that the average income of artists is also higher. On the contrary, evidence indicates that the average income among artists is lower than in comparable professions.
Therefore, by going into the arts, artists endure an income penalty. If they were to choose another occupation, they would earn more money. According to an early us census report, only employees of the church faced larger income penalties than artists.
Moreover, artists’ incomes were usually compared with the average income of the work force as a whole. In current surveys, artists are polled using more sophisticated methods, and they are compared to people in occupations with similar ‘educational and professional standings’.
In Europe, creative artists, like visual artists, composers and writers, earn the least, whereas in the us and Australia it’s performers, like dancers actors and musicians. In the Netherlands, there is relatively a lot of information on the incomes of visual artists. According to a detailed survey, 40% of Dutch visual artists earned less than zero from their profession in 1998. Therefore, the income penalty for the average visual artist in the Netherlands is almost 100%. (If 50% had earned less than zero, the penalty would have been 100%.)
Estimating hourly wages instead of annual incomes doesn’t make much difference in the case of Dutch visual artists however, because they spend an average of 36 hours per week making art. On average, performers in the Netherlands only spend 18 hours per week working in the arts, however.38 Because figures regarding hourly incomes are still inadequate, for the time being it is necessary to compare annual incomes.)
It is useful to note that, if average incomes in the arts are low or even negative, this does not necessarily mean that artists are always poor. Artists are, in fact, often not poor because they have other sources of income, usually from second jobs. But as long as still only a few can make a living from their art, the arts must nevertheless be called a low-income profession.
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