Summary of Nov 19

Delphine Hesters:

When I talk about the socio-economic position of the artist, I have to talk about precarity. We can consider the precarious position of the artist as a ‘wicked problem

This term ‘wicked problem’ means:

  • Complex: multi-layered, many different aspects or sub-problems and intertwined with other larger, societal problems
  • There is not one, unambiguous definition of the problem. Different stakeholders have different perspectives and come to different definitions of what the actual problem is.
    • There’s an agreement that there IS a problem. But not WHAT it is exactly, and consequently also not how to SOLVE it.
  • When there is not one clear solution, it will even always remain unclear if or when the problem is solved. Solutions are always partial and… can generate new problems.

Another way of framing it is stating that wicked problems are systemic issues  

These elements were highlighted:
1. growing inequality in a growing market
2. socieal interest from art to creativity
3. individualization and flexwork in ‘collective sectors’

ad 1. Growing inequality on a global market

  • Over the last decades we have seen budgets on the art market as a whole
  • Also, globalization has offered broadened opportunities for artists (especially if you consider small countries like BE or NL).
  • There are more museums, galleries residencies, biennials…. than ever
  • Additionally, new technologies and communication platforms have also promised different ways of communication and distribution

However, what we see, is that this growth benefits a limited number of artists. The visual arts market operates strongly as a ‘winner-takes-all’ market - So the general growth also hides a growth in inequality.

Ad 2. Societal interest from art to creativity
What we have also seen over the last decade(s) – in BE, but surely also in the NL – is that:

  • on the one hand, the added value of art for society is strongly questioned today – we have to defend that art matters and that it is not “a leftist hobby” that artists are not “subvention addicts”
  • on the other hand artists are hip. In a knowledge society striving for ‘innovation’ in many fields, ‘creativity’ is a buzz word and the ‘creative industries’ are stimulated by policy makers.

In a way one can say: this offers new opportunities for artists. And it does. For some artists these contexts fit their practice and they participate in a win-win situation.
However, in such contexts,

  • art tends to be instrumentalized for other purposes (tourism, real estate value, social cohesion…), hence one should carefully assess whether the conditions really benefit or align with your art practice - including with the values you uphold. The interest is often not really with the art or artist.


Ad 3. Individualization and flex-work in the collective sector
An insight I want to briefly share with you, as visual artists, is that in the so called ‘collective sectors’ of (classical) music and performing arts
- which are also the more highly subsidized sectors,

company structures and fixed ensembles are not anymore the dominant model
today, for the average theatre maker, director, dancer, choreographer, musician: flexwork or project based work is the norm. They don’t have fixed contracts. 

This means that these artists have a lot - more in more - in common with visual artists in terms of their working conditions, uncertainties and socio-economic situation. 
This means, that these artists are your allies.


Challenges for artists

(again, I selected only a couple from the ones described in the booklet)

  1. multiple job holding
  2. economic precarity
  3. careers beyond the growth model
  4. gender inequality

Ad 1. Multiple-job holding
I will share with you some data from a large-scale research that was conducted in Flanders on the socio-economic condition of artists in all artistic disciplines. (It was conducted by the University of Ghent, but commissioned by Kunstenpunt, several other support organisations and the Flemish Government). (published 2016). 
2706 artists participated, among which 716 visual artists (without going into detail of definitions: we can call these ‘professional artists’)

What we see is that artists from all disciplines are ‘multiple-job holders’

  • they combine different jobs or projects
  • inside and outside of the arts

Sometimes truly out of interest, mostly because of financial needs.

Share some data:
This pie chart shows the time distribution for the visual artists in FL, on average, for the average visual artist:

  • in blue: 53% of their time is spent on core artistic work
  • in red: 15% of their time is spent on work related to the artistic (e.g. teaching – which is important for income!, management work, coaching others…)
  • in green: 8% artistic work in other sectors (e.g. playing in a band)
  • in purple: 24% (so 1 fourth) of the work time is spent in jobs outside of the arts


This image is pretty similar for all the artistic disciplines.
It means: not only ‘how do I get an income’? is important, but also: ‘how do I manage my time?’

What we also connect to this image is that: artists are entrepreneurs. If entrepreneurship means that you have the capacity to mobilize the necessary resources (money, collaborators,…) to allow you to realize your artistic projects – then artists are entrepreneurs. 

Ad 2. Economic precarity
In this study, we also measured the annual income of the artists. The numbers in this table stand for annual NET income (after taxation) and ALL income
– so income from all kinds of jobs, also non artistic jobs, and grants and unemployment benefits etc.

Based on this overall table: clearly the visual artists are worst of, in comparison to the other artist groups.

  • Authors and musicians fair best. Then followed by filmmakers and performing artists.
  • At the other hand, it is important to mention that all disciplines have a median income much lower than the median of all tax paying citizens in Belgium, while their educational level is well above that median. (75% kunstenaars diploma hoger onderwijs vs. 40% bevolking)

Numbers of the visual artists. We look at the median number

For visual artists who have the status of employee, this is 13.700 and for self-employed visual artists this is 12.000.

  • This means that half of the visual artists earned less than 13.700 euros net in 2014 (year of reference) and half of the visual artists earned more.

This means: what we see is poverty. For some. This also means: having a partner or parents to rely on for income.
(An important question: who can afford to become an artist? Only people with rich parents?)

Another way of looking at the income data is asking: how many artists can live exclusively from the income they earned with their art work?
There we see that for all disciplines, this is about 1 in 10 artists. Only film makers do better with 2 in 10.

If we consider the income generated in the art world (so also the teaching, coaching others, playing in a music band)

  • Then we see 1 in 3 of the visual artists can live of their work in the arts.
  • Half of the filmmakers and musicians
  • 1 in 4 of the performing artists


Ad 3. Careers beyond the growth model
Just a short insight I want to share with you, related to careers.

We see, also in the different disciplines, that the image of a career, as a straight and growing line, does not represent reality anymore. (If it ever really has).
Different mechanisms in the sector (both in public institutions and on the market) lead to careers being pretty unpredictable and bumpy. Also, many artists don’t necessarily strive for growth.

I believe we really have to find new imaginary to talk about careers or trajectories of artists, because this image is not only outdated, but also harmful. The straight, upward line is still used by many as a yardstick to measure success. However, ‘success’ shows in different ways today, not only in terms of quantitative growth.

Ad 4. Gender inequality
At art schools, we roughly see as many boys and girls studying arts.
But once in the professional field, their careers differ strongly.

  • Women drop out of the profession in higher numbers
  • Women clearly earn less.
    • In visual arts, together with literature, this is worst for all disciplines
    • In visual arts (in FL) at the age group of 45-54 years old, the women in the study earn 10.000 euros less than their male counterparts, on yearly basis


last part of booklet

'When at the end of each month successful artists still find themselves below the poverty level, it is an important signal system of working, collaborating, remuneration and social protection is due for a revision.'

Quote: “if successful artists - in terms of recognition and support / being ‘central’ in the field - are still struggling economically, socially, this is a sign that the system and how it operates today, is reaching its limits and is unsustainable.

We said in the beginning that the precarity of artists is a wicked, very complex and messy problem – how to move forward?

  1. You can take the perspective of dealing with this system, while being part of it
    Knowing how it works, you can ask yourself: How to strategize? How to make it work for you? Which mindset do you take? How to keep yourself on track and allow to continue your artistic practice in a meaningful way? I assume this is what Jeff Goins will talk to you about – how to use your assets?
  2. What I would like to end with trying to motivate you to also think from a different perspective, where we start from the need to change the system / of transitioning to more fair and sustainable systems

In our research at Kunstenpunt, we mapped examples of practices, movements aimed at changing the system as well. You can find them in the booklet, I won’t sum them up. But here some:

  • there is the Dutch example of the Kunstenaarshonorarium – where collective action of artists lead to the construction of a shared minimum norm for payments of exhibitions – which also lead to more money given to the Mondriaanfonds by the Dutch government
  • there is the example of anti-sexisms movements in the wake of #metoo – leading to actual policy changes on government and organisational level, tilting quickly our common culture
  • or numerous examples of new models of ‘collective self-organisation’ among artists (also VA), to share and take collective responsibility in the managerial parts of their careers, but in ways that align with the values they find important (not ‘just’ hiring a manager) – leading to tangible alternatives and different negotiations positions and collaborations with institutions.
  • … etc.

What we see, and what is self-evident: changing a system is not something you do on your own. It’s always a collective effort in one way or another. Something we do together. 

Be the change

'Never doubt that a small group of thouthtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's only thing that ever has.' (Margaret mead)

I end with this quote. And observation:
- In the history of our sector, if you zoom out, we have seen large shifts in models of the organisation of the artistic practice
- and in these changes artists have always been the driving force (together with others) on the systemic level.

So indeed, there should be ways to get out of the ‘survival mode’ as an artist and find ways to support yourself to continue your practice in a meaningful way /
but even to go further, to collectively change the system itself, for the better.

Find the whole content of her research in this free booklet here:  D.I.T. van Delphine Hesters


Summary Jeff Goins:

The calling of an artist is to create work that transforms the lives of other people.

Try today to open up for opportunities and to be surprised. Together you can discover what the futher of the arts and the artists in todays society will be. We don’t know what the futher will bring. If we stick to the old storie that we tell ourselves all the time and keep believing in it, it will be hard to change.

Pick your right kind of stubbornness. Try to be stubborn on a vision, flexible on detail. Keep your focus in mind. All good artists are stubborn, only there is the kind of stubbornness that helps you and the kind that stops you. If you are stubborn about everything, you will loose the clear vision. Remember: stubbornness is a tool. When you harness it, you can use it.

Every artist is part of a community to open up to opportunities. To sharpen us, to find ways to grow. `you can try to do it alone, only it is harder. If you have no scene, try to find one. How can you join a scene? Become a part and start by making a contribution to the scene. Next try to do something together that makes a residence. This can attract the attention of a patron.

A portfolio can be build by diversifying your work. Question the different ways to stay in your genius. You can add work that finds an audience.

In the breakout rooms these questions issued by Jeff Goins were discussed:

- How is my stubbornness holding me back?
- Where can I join a scene? What’s out there?
- Is there a way for me to difersify my portfolio?
- What sort of patron can support my work? Is it one person? A community? Are there fans of my work?

Find a summary of Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve here: