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You Have To Be Rich (Or Lucky) To Make Art

It’s frustrating, money. Wouldn’t it be easier if we all just had more of it? Or didn’t have to worry about it?

It’s impossible not to think about this considering we’re frequently faced with rich people getting legs up by other rich people and a lack of compassion for those in need. It’s a fact that constantly gnaws at people like me, the nip and the nip and the nip when I see people I went to school with or are friendly with carelessly traveling, not working, or simply getting ahead by just being. It must be nice. If only they knew how lucky they are then maybe the world would be different.

Perhaps this bitterness is based in my being a somewhat struggling, unfulfilled artist. This is of note because, well, it’s an industry that requires a great amount of work with little guidance. It’s a difficult field to succeed in without working another job or without some help. That’s why so many stories of rich kids succeeding in the arts recur: it’s quite difficult to be poor and successful as an artist (at least while one is alive, that is).

Art website and resource Artsy recently zoomed in on this problem to see if being rich when approaching a career in art is indeed necessary. Spoiler alert: it helps out a lot.

Written by Anna Louie Sussman, the article quickly points out the disparity of artistic pursuit from a financial point of view. Art is a gamble but it can pay off. Sussman explains.

A 2014 study of Census Bureau data from The Hamilton Project found that fine arts majors are among the lowest-earning graduates, but their earnings trajectory is also among the steepest. Their initial earnings barely surpass $15,000, but more than double within the first five years of their careers, highlighting how critical financial support can be during those early twenty-something years. Art history majors make around $32,000 annually in the first year out of school, according to the study.

This is huge! That doesn’t seem like a big deal but is big considering you go from making so little to doubling what you make. That doubling can continue too, for some.

But how do you get there? How can you duke it out to win that prize of success, if you’re lucky? Sussman speaks with a few people from working class backgrounds in art who have shifted focus to survive. Their plights represent the problematic elephant in the art room: parents with cash.

A recent report in the New York Times showed 22-, 23-, and 24-year-olds aspiring to work art and design are the most likely to receive financial assistance from their parents, with 53% reporting some help, compared with 40% of twenty-somethings overall. They also received the most money, an average of $3,600 a year, compared with an average of $3,000 for their peers in other fields.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine.

First, 40% of people in this age group get help to begin with. That is bonkers. Second, they receive the most money. Of course. None of this is obvious and, for those working in art, it rubs raw the scabs of art rich kids PTSD that we see again and again and again. It’s the shadow that follows anyone “our age” who is successful and why bringing up certain names come with a clenched teeth smile: we all are still continuing, fighting forward in our artistic path as these others (Well, rich kids.) are afforded that which we still pursue for myriad reasons.

Must be nice.

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