A NEW study is starting to draw attention, and it confirms some of what we’ve suspected: That despite the rise of university programs to educate artists, the employment market for the fine arts continues to tighten. So we’re left with more and more people stranded, often with significant amounts of student-loan debt. And the number of people can actually make a living as an artist with a fine-arts degree remains quite low, close to just 10 percent.
Here is the way a Hyperallergic story — which both presents and critiques the findings of this new study, which is built from Census data — begins:
There’s one very clear take-away from the latest report released by the collectiveBFAMFAPhD: people who graduate with arts degrees regularly end up with a lot of debt and incredibly low prospects for earning a living as artists. Or, as they put it in the report, titled Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists, “the fantasy of future earnings in the arts cannot justify the high cost of degrees.”
The story is written by Alexis Clements, one of the more credible and nuanced of scribes trying to get at the economics of culture-making. Her whole post is long and complex, so I encourage interested parties to read it all. But part of what I like about her argument is how she pivots to the larger economic situation.
While this report focuses specifically on the arts, I couldn’t help but notice that it’s a part of a much larger conversation that’s been roiling across fields recently, particularly when it comes to graduate degrees. Our higher education system is producing a vast quantity of workers with educations and expectations for high-level and high-paying jobs that simply do not exist in the quantity needed to employ all these people.
Earlier this month the Boston Globe published a lengthy article highlighting the reality that postdoctoral researchers in biomedical fields, after nearly a decade of schooling, are becoming in some ways the equivalent of interns, with low paying menial jobs that offer little potential for promotion or even hiring. And biomedical sciences are hardly the only ones. There’s trouble for a scientists with PhDs across fields, and while the glut of lawyers seems to be slowing slightly, it hasn’t gone away, and salaries have dramatically decreased for those shouldering huge debt burdens from law school.
Unfortunately in the arts, we seem to be still ramping up when it comes to higher degrees, rather than pulling back.
There are a number of posts on this survey so far, but this one has by far the most depth I’ve seen.