28 Feb 2019

By Anna Hor

Visual artists face many struggles and barriers in the development and upholding of their
careers on a daily basis. This unfortunately is not only a stigma associated with the visual
arts sector, but is based on evidence that shows that jobs in the visual arts sector are
precarious and poorly paid. Here are some key facts and reasons as to why artists face daily
challenges:

  • Being a visual artist, you are most likely to work freelance, meaning that you’re not
    just an artist but also an entrepreneur essentially running your own business.
    Freelancing as a visual artist ultimately requires business skills alongside your artistic
    talent, where you are expected to understand and manage your own finances, tax
    and marketing which most visual artists have to teach themselves. Furthermore,
    some visual artists struggle to find own work opportunities, therefore consistent
    self-promotion along with networking is key for profile-raising, predominantly in the
    internet age where social media platforms are widely used.
  • Research from the Visual Artists Data Report 2016 shows that 36% of artists’ income
    comes from non-art-related work that tends to be low-skilled. Multiples job are
    needed as an income supplement because in a lot of cases, working as an artist does
    not provide sufficient income. Furthermore, “Overall, only one-fifth of artists (21%)
    indicate that the income they receive from their art practice allows them to spend as
    much time on their art practice as they would like.” This is a common challenge a lot
    of visual artists face as it means they can’t dedicate as much time on their art
    practice as they’d like.
  • The art world is highly competitive since everyone is their own business, and anyone
    can be their own business. There are thousands of talented and highly skilled visual
    artists out there, but how will you stand out? Visual artists need to be innovative and
    think outside of the box to give them the edge, not just with competing for
    exhibition spaces or artwork related ideas, but also with marketing and how you sell
    yourself.
  • No matter how busy you are, as a freelance artist, you always need to be looking out
    or applying for the next work opportunity. This is exciting since you don’t know
    what’s coming up next, but also can be daunting since there just may be not many
    opportunities on offer, the very nature of the visual arts sector being unpredictable
    and unstable. Also, being a visual artist who is self-employed means you don’t get
    sick leave, holiday pay, maternity benefits and or a pension either, therefore
    planning financially for these contingencies is crucial and is a potential worry.
  • A common struggle visual artists face is keeping separate living and personal
    expenses from art finances. According to the Livelihoods of Visual Artists 2016 Data
    report, it is said that “80% of artists regularly incur costs associated with materials
    and consumables, whilst costs for travel and accommodation, subscriptions or
    memberships and research resources are also regularly incurred by a majority of
    artists.” Due to this financially demanding nature of investing and maintaining these
    necessary art materials, software, workspaces etc., it’s not surprising or uncommon
    that many visual artists often find themselves funding their work out of their own
    pocket, inherently at times when you’re not getting as much work as usual, or the
    money from some jobs simply doesn’t cover them.
  • Charging less than you should of! This is a common struggle for freelance visual
    artists since its often hard to calculate the price you charge for a piece of art,
    especially when you negotiate the price before you start the commission thinking it
    will take a certain amount of time, but in fact takes longer. Knowing your worth is
    important, even more so when you’re first starting out because it’s easy to be taken
    advantage of too.
  • It’s difficult for visual artists to develop their skills without further education due to
    the fact many artists are self-employed or have contract type work; therefore there
    aren’t many opportunities for training courses. On top of this, it’s not very affordable
    or sustainable to pursue training courses whilst taking time off work, as you have to
    pay to cover the costs of the training courses whilst not earning. Relying on
    internships again has the same financial problems as embarking on training courses,
    seems to be a double-ended sword both ways.
  • Freelancing as a visual artist requires a lot of hard work, being your own boss you
    need self-motivation, resilience and organization not only for financial success but
    industry recognition. This can be harder than you think, since without having a set
    routine like a 9-5 job, it’s easy to procrastinate or take days off. Also, if you are
    reliant on another job, it’s understandable that relaxing on your time off is
    preferable. A good tip is to infuse your work with meaning to encourage and remind
    yourself why you are working hard, along with coherent planning and time-
    management to balance your workload and reduce stress.
  • Working in isolation is also a struggle some visual artists face since it’s your talent
    and hard work that produces the outcome, so you don’t necessarily need to rely on
    others or work in a team. This can be lonely sometimes, therefore it’s always good to
    network simply by engaging in as many visual art events around you as possible to
    boost potential work opportunities, or renting a shared workspace to create work
    around others.
  • On the other hand, rejection is disheartening or when you feel like you aren’t getting
    many work opportunities as usual. But according to the Creative Industries Council
    “It’s an exciting and pivotal time for the UK creative industries. Recent statistics
    show the sector is growing at 8.9% a year, making it the second fastest expanding
    industrial sector. This vale spreads beyond these industries into the wider
    economy”, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re struggling, no matter how
    competitive and daunting the visual arts sector seems, there is hope!