I’ve started to notice that my worldview doesn’t really jive with many of the most prominent speakers in the fantasy art space. Art directors and tastemakers seem to be painting a picture of world where people start at the bottom and work their way to the top. It’s the whole busboy, to restauranteur narrative that is equally popular (and often despised) in the foodservice industry.
“You work hard at this job kid, and some day you’ll be owning the place!”
What I’ve heard when I talk to working artists seems very clear to me. A lot of incredibly hard working people have a very scattered level of success. Some of them seem to be doing extremely well, with incomes that allow them to live comfortable lives as part the middle class or higher. Meanwhile, the vast majority seem to be working equally hard, only to scrape by at or below the poverty line. A freelance artist's success seems to have much more to do with one's ability to fulfill the specific tastes of the commercial industry more than anything else.
Last week, I put out a survey to poll freelance fantasy artists about their income to start the conversation about how much people are really making. The survey itself was hastily written and very flawed. Ultimately, it showed that the people who reply to my surveys seem to be doing about as well as the people I’ve talked to anecdotally. Which is to say, not very well.
74% of the 317 respondents answered the question “What was your total art related income in 2014?” with an amount of $20,000 per year or less. With 62% of that group making less than $5,000 per year.
On the other side of the scales, 11% of respondents reported making over $50,000 per year or more. An income which many would consider a middle class income in America. Proof that some people are doing well with the right assets and opportunities.
As I said, these numbers are totally unsurprising to me. This survey sample is so horribly skewed towards the people that I’m likely to be in contact with that I can’t say it represents the industry at large. The reason I’m publishing this is to start the process of doing better polling as well as to explain the origin of my worldview to those who disagree with me.
I urge you to refrain from seeking to find any real conclusions from these numbers. The number of possible narratives the data seems to support are both numerous and contradictory. This is a starting point at best, a chart with exactly one point on it. I’m planning on creating a far more insightful poll for 2015 with the help of people more experienced in statistics. So hopefully, I’ll have something more meaningful to share in a few months.
Thanks to everyone who participated! I believe that keeping the flow of information open feels both positive and necessary for the well being of the art community.