The Truth About Professional Artists

The Truth About Professional Artists

I recently learned an awful lot about the professional life of artists when I attended a conference that focused on arts graduates and how they’re faring in this changing economy. What I learned may surprise you.

The conference itself was called 3 Million Stories, so titled for the 3 million art and design students in the USA. But the information itself extended well beyond art school graduates and spoke to all working artists.

I learned that work is purpose. A job is just that, a job. A career comes with income and status. But what about a calling? Artists feel called to do the work they do.

I learned that the point of attaining a fine arts degree doesn’t always have to be vocational. Education is a worthy goal in itself. I learned to understand that the economy is not a morality play.

Artists, like teachers and nurses, may serve others with work that has impact, but that doesn’t mean they get paid a fair wage for their effort. But though their salaries may be a challenge, I also learned that artists are happy. In fact, of all the different professions that have been surveyed, ARTISTS report being happiest of all. It seems there is no correlation between income and job satisfaction.

I was surprised to learn that a staggering 70% of Americans say they feel disengaged from their work – it’s just a job they do. Yet 82% of arts graduates report feeling “very engaged” with their work. Because it’s a calling, they do it with a sense of purpose.

I learned that artists don’t realize how valuable their skills are in today’s world. In survey after survey of the top CEO’s, it’s CREATIVITY that’s always ranked as the number one skill necessary for success. But do you think they’re teaching creativity at business schools? No, I’m pretty sure they’re not.

SNAAP (Strategic National Arts Alumni Project) is the organization that’s been surveying art school graduates across the United States. This is the largest survey done of any profession and the results dispel the myths we’ve all been fed.

Art school graduates are not bitter, nor are they unemployed. They’re using their creativity thankyouverymuch, and are serving as today’s leaders of the Creative Class. Out of 100,000 art graduates surveyed, a whopping 90% say they would make the same investment in art school again.

And get this – 74% of art school graduates work in their field today, compared to only 56% of graduates in other fields such as accounting and biology. And this will make you happy: less than 1% of art school graduates become waiters. Apparently, the stories we’ve been fed about our uncertain prospects are not true.
I’m not saying that you have to go to art school in order to succeed. But I know for a fact that if you want to work as an artist, the opportunities exist.

Filmmaker Spike Lee spoke one night at the conference. He said, “When you have a job that you love, it’s not a job anymore.” However, he warned, “There’s no such thing as an overnight success. You gotta bust your ass.” That’s the truth of it.

But the numbers don’t lie. This is a wonderful time to be an artist. And yes, it’s scary. It’s hard work. And it’s sometimes challenging to make a decent wage. But honestly, would you really choose anything else?

Crista Cloutier is a Professional Arts Career Advisor who has worked in and around the art business throughout her career. She’s been honored as an “Influencer in the Contemporary Art World” by LinkedIn. She spent a decade as the director of an influential gallery, is recognized internationally as a curator, has contributed articles and books about art to major publications worldwide, and she’s an artist herself.


Crista is also the founder of The Working Artist, an online professional practices resource for artists who want to get their work seen and sold.


How To Sell Your Art

Packed with helpful information to help you accelerate success. When you sign up for this free eBook, you’ll also receive a complimentary micro-workshop, Jump: Go Deeper Into Your Artist Practice.

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The Working Artist Masterclass

For artists who are ready to go deeper into their professional development; over the span of 8 weeks, you’ll be walked step-by-step through this unique program on a journey that you’ll never forget.

  • • Explore who you are as an artist, so your branding and marketing message are completely authentic.
  • • Understand how to price your art, create compelling promotional materials, and navigate the art world.
  • * Learn how to connect with collectors and art world-decision makers.

This is an online, on-demand comprehensive workshop that also includes Art Fair Essentials, an intensive program that will help you to achieve more sales during a fair. In addition, you’ll be invited to Crista’s monthly Coaching Calls that will continue to support you even after you finish the course.

You can receive a special discounted offer upon joining the mailing list. To learn more, visit


Private Mentorship Program

If you’re a mid-career artist with an exhibition record, Crista Cloutier offers the opportunity for private one-on-one Skype consultations. Every artist’s journey is unique so Crista will work with you in terms of your specific needs so you feel completely prepared for the art fair world.


You can receive a special discounted offer upon joining the mailing list. To learn more, visit

"Crista Cloutier is an extraordinary facilitator for change, creativity and prosperity.” Griselda Cann Mussett

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