I've been reading a lot about two subjects lately: artists and their empty lives, and happiness as it relates to one's career. These subjects seem to conflict utterly, unless you read the data from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, which says that my theory about following your dream is true: If you do, you find a lot of happiness, which is also to say that you don't find much money. But happiness is worth a lot.
The general cultural zeitgeist on artists is that they're terrifically sad. This is emphasized not just by novels about unhappy artists, but by regular, well-publicized stories of depressed artists who either commit suicide or ponder the existence of suicide blackly.
So how is it that artists -- who should, we believe, be pursuing careers that fulfill their souls rather than their retirement accounts and thus be happier than those soulless, corporate automatons -- aren't all happy as clams? Ah, but they are.And while they're happy, they're not especially rich. According to data from a survey of 13,000 alumni of 154 different arts programs from the aforementioned SNAAP, a project of the department of sociology at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, artists are neither starving nor solipsistic.
"Arts graduates are finding ways to put together careers and be employed, and many of them are satisfied with their work," Steven J. Tepper, one of the professors involved with the study, said in comments to Inside Higher Ed.
A surprisingly high number (92% to be exact) of arts graduates who want to work are working; that's an unemployment rate significantly lower than that of the economy at large. What's more, they're most often employed in fields that would be fulfilling for graduates of applied art programs; 57% are either working as professional artists now (42% of all graduates) or have in the past (the remaining 15%). Of course, most of these are holding two jobs concurrently, many as teachers or instructors (although, despite popular stereotypes, only 3% as food service workers).
But the best news is the great majority of actors, craft artists, fine artists, writers, musicians and photographers (more than two-thirds) reports they were "pleased that they were able to do work that reflected their personality, interests and values." The picture is decidedly different for graphic designers, art directors and web designers, who are far more likely often required to produce work in accordance with the aesthetic of business leaders. According to the study, only about one-third of those are satisfied with their work.
When it comes to income, the satisfaction falls to near zero (for craft artists) and raises to a paltry 29% for the least happy of artists -- art directors. The inverse relation of happiness to income is almost...poetic.
Love, Jobs, But Not Much Money, for Art Graduates