Does passion pay off?

A study of the socio-economic position of professional artists in Flanders.

1. Socio-demographic profile


The youngest professional group in the study is that of the performing artists. Over a third of these artists (36%) are younger than 35 years of age and around 70% is younger than 45 years of age. The group of screenwriters and directors is the second youngest group and 60% of respondents are younger than 45 years of age. This 60% equals the share of under-45s on the labour market as a whole. Respondents involved in the literature, music and the visual arts groups display a lower percentage of young artists. Proportionally more older respondents are active (aged 55 and over) in all disciplines than on the Flemish labour market as a whole, although this does differ from one discipline to another. We find the oldest population among the writers and illustrators. Over a third of these are older than 55 years of age and 10% of writers surveyed have already passed the pensionable age (compared with just 0.5% of those active on the broad Flemish labour market).


The artistic professions in music and film appear to be very masculine professions. In both disciplines over 70% of respondents were male, for musicians this rises to over three-quarters of the population. The other disciplines are characterised by a more or less balanced male-female distribution. However, if we examine the gender ratio per age we obtain a different picture. We find a larger share of women among the youngest age groups in each of the disciplines. The decrease in the percentage of women is not linear for each discipline as the age increases and it is not as marked for each discipline. The audiovisual arts and music sector may be similar in their overall male-female ratio, but when it comes to age they display a different gender distribution: the decrease in the share of women is not nearly as spectacular among directors and screenwriters as it is among musicians and composers. With regard to the latter older women disappear completely from the picture and over 90% of those aged 55 and over are male (compared with 53% on the Flemish labour market as a whole). Within the visual arts, performing arts and literature the distribution among those under 35 is roughly 40%-60%, with the large proportion of women (compared with 49% on the Flemish labour market as a whole for this age group), whereas for the 65+ age group the opposite is true (compared with 47% on the Flemish market as a whole for this age group). The decrease in women over the years is markedly greater than on the Flemish labour market. (The lower percentage of women in the older age groups is the result of a decrease throughout the career as well as a more limited number of women entering the labour market decades ago).


Artists are significantly better educated than the general populationOver three-quarters of respondents hold a higher education qualification compared with 40% of the working population in Belgium. Among those respondents with a higher education qualification the majority also has a master’s degree (61% of all respondents or 71.5% of all highly educated respondents). Artists appear proportionately more frequently in each of the disciplines from General Secondary Education (ASO) and Art Secondary Education (KSO) – between 80 and 90% – and far less from Vocational Secondary Education (BSO) and Technical Secondary Education (TSO).

It would not be correct to assume that virtually all artists followed an artistic education. 68% of visual artists followed an artistic education. With regard to film, the performing arts and music the percentage falls to respectively 58%, 56% and 51%. Just 37% of writers and illustrators followed an artistic education.

2. Activities, remuneration and time allocation

The study assessed the diverse activities that the artists performed and the extent to which they were remunerated for them. We differentiated between four types of activities:

  • Type 1. Artistic activities in the artist’s particular artistic discipline, core artistic activities.
  • Type 2. Activities related to the artist’s particular discipline but that do not belong to the core artistic activities (e.g. teaching within the discipline, technical or production work).
  • Type 3. Artistic activities in other disciplines (e.g. a screenwriter that also writes novels or a visual artists who also plays in a band).
  • Type 4. Other activities that take place outside the arts sector.

Given the activities were specified per group of artists, we refer you to the files pertaining to the individual disciplines that follow this general summary for the profiles of the activities and extent to which certain activities were remunerated. There are some general observations to be made regarding the activities and remuneration across the disciplines.


Artistic development, prospecting, research, pre-production and business-related work the artists performed were rarely remunerated in all disciplines. Performances or presentations were remunerated more often. As far as the remuneration of presentations is concerned this mainly applies to the music and the performing arts, not the visual arts. Work undertaken at an artist’s initiative related to a production’s creation is mostly unpaid for more artists in all disciplines. Explicitly commissioned work is generally paid, even if this is not always the case. In the visual arts 14% of the artists were also not paid for commissioned work.


Teaching (related to an artist’s particular discipline), in addition to their artistic activities, is an important activity for a great many professional artists. Within each discipline at least 40% of respondents gave lessons or workshops during the reference year 2014. For the performing artists and musicians this figure was approximately 60%. Higher art education and private lessons and workshops outside the formal educational circuit seem to be important for every discipline. Part-time art education (DKO) forms an important teaching context for musicians and visual artists.

Over 40% of the visual artists have (out of necessity?) a non-art-related job. This also applies to approximately 40% of the writers and illustrators, 30% of the musicians and composers and 25% of the performing artists. These extra jobs are most frequently found in education and training (outside the arts), as well as in the broader ‘art, amusement and recreation’ sector. In other words, teaching outside the arts also represents an important source of income. A number of artists are not only active within their particular ‘main discipline’, but also practice activities in the other disciplines (whether remunerated or not). The performing artists differ considerably from the others in this respect: but at least three-quarters of the performing artists indicated they are also active in at least one other discipline (mainly the visual arts, music and film) and the majority also indicated they were paid for this work during the reference year 2014. Musicians are least active in other art disciplines. ‘Only’ 31% of the musicians were also active in another discipline and one-fifth received income originating from other artistic disciplines in 2014.


A professional artist’s job does not solely consist of artistic activities, but a mix of all kinds of tasks. As a rule professional artists are multiple jobholders with diverse jobs within and outside the arts. Mapping time allocation reveals the average ratios in time allocated between the different types of activities. On average the core artistic activities (type 1) count for just over half of the artists’ total number of working hours (from 53% for directors and screenwriters and visual artists to 59% for writers and performing artists). Based on a further statistical analysis it was examined whether the differences in time allocation between disciplines were also associated with factors such as gender, age and the extent to which the respondents felt they received recognition. This analysis revealed that women spent less time on their artistic activities compared with men. The older age groups and also artists that felt they received more recognition can spend more time on their art. If we take these factors into account, it appears that visual artists, literary artists and performing artists (can) devote significantly more time to their artistic work than musicians and film-makers.

Differences also emerge between the disciplines in the composition of the other non-art-related activities. In addition to their work within the arts, visual artists, performing artists and writers and illustrators devote more time to non-artistic jobs outside the arts (type 4) than film-makers, musicians and composers (on average around 23% of their working hours).

3. Income and status


We find major differences in the social statuses in which the artists from the different disciplines mainly perform their artistic work. Writers and visual artists seldom practice their artistic activities in paid employment (respectively 7% and 12%), whereas over half of the performing artists (57%) practice artistic activities as employees and half as an employee via a Social Agency for Artists (SBK) or employment agency. Directors, screenwriters and musicians occupy a midway position with respectively 30% and 35% in paid employment and respectively 40% and 30% employed by contracts via an SBK or employment agency. Proportionally the most self-employed respondents, whether as a main or secondary occupation, are writers and illustrators.

Payment via the Small Fees Scheme (KVR) appears to be most common among musicians and performing artists.


The following tables show the net annual income per discipline, separately for three groups of artists: those that practice all their activities – so not only the artistic activities – as an employee, those whose main occupation is performed with a self-employed status and those who work as self-employed in a secondary occupation.

The incomes of the respondents with an employee status for a main occupation and self-employed status for a secondary occupation are higher overall than those of their colleagues in paid employment. The share of income they earn under their employee status is systematically higher than that of the artists that only work as employees, except among the performing artists. The median income of the performing artists is €17,500. The median income as an employee in the other disciplines is between €25,000 and €30,000.

In addition there is the income earned from being self-employed in a secondary occupation, which is billed. Among the visual artists that are self-employed in their secondary occupation, the median income billed was lowest at approximately €2,000 in 2014. As a group the performing artists reported the highest median billed income as self-employed persons for a secondary occupation, with a median of €8,500.

(The table shows that the number of respondents that stated they were self-employed for secondary occupations is low in some disciplines. Consequently these figures are more sensitive to the potential impact of atypical profiles).

The net incomes for artists self-employed in their main occupation were also requested for the reference year 2014. By ‘net income’ from self-employed work we understand the revenue (excluding VAT) minus professional expenses, income tax, premiums and social security contributions. Income from grants, awards, copyrights, undeclared work and benefits are also included. The visual artists also have the lowest income among the self-employed respondents. Half of the visual artists with a self-employed status earned less than €12,000, half earned more than €12,000. A quarter of self-employed visual artists have an income of €4,000 or lower. The writers and illustrators with the self-employed status have a median income of €17,000. As a group the self-employed film-makers have the highest income, with a median of €26,677. A quarter of the self-employed directors in the data set earned over €50,000 in 2014. In terms of median the musicians come closest to the film-makers.


Although artists devote (a little) more than half their time to their artistic work, less than half their income originates from these activities. On average visual artists obtain the least income from their artistic core activities (26%), and performing artists the most (47%). If we take all the activities in the field of the arts together (the sum of artistic work in their particular discipline and in other disciplines and not purely artistic work in their particular discipline), the visual artists (47%) along with the writers and illustrators (49%) obtain the lowest share of income from the arts, and film-makers the most (71%). The flip side of this is that the visual artists and the literary artists are the ones that obtain the highest share of their income from other paid work outside the arts (respectively 30 and 36%).

Income from unemployment benefits is rather limited. On average writers and illustrators obtain just 5% of their annual income from unemployment benefits. The figure for the performing artists is the highest at 19%. Almost half of the performing artists indicate that they are able to fall back on the benefits schemes of the artist status and 7.6% on a different unemployment benefit during periods with no income from work. A quarter of the film-makers can fall back on the artist status and 10% on a different unemployment benefit. Among the writers and illustrators just 10% can fall back on unemployment benefits.


A small group of artists obtain all their income solely from artistic core activities (type 1). For the actors this was 8% (in 2014). According to the same calculations we see that 20% of the film-makers obtain all their income from film work. 11% of the visual artists obtain all their income from artistic work. For the authors, musicians and performing artists the percentages are respectively 12%, 12% and 10%.

If we look at all the activities in the artistic sector (the sum of types 1, 2 and 3), we see that half of the film-makers and musical artists obtain all their income from the artistic sector, almost a third of the visual artists and approximately one quarter of the literary artists and performing artists.


For the respondents that work under the employee status we also examined the average income according to age and gender. (In other words, the self-employed and employees that also work as self-employed for a secondary occupation, were not included in these figures). The average salary of the employees increases with age for the film-makers, writers, illustrators and musicians. However, among the visual artists and performing artists we see that the average net annual wage stays the same at approximately €20,000 from the age of 35 to 65. This implies that on average the visual artists and performing artists in our sample aged 55-65 years earn approximately half the amount earned by their musical colleague-artists and less than a third earned by film-makers of the same age.

The gender gap with which we are familiar on the regular labour market also clearly emerges among artists, more or less according to a similar pattern in the different disciplines. The gender gap is smallest among the youngest group (35 years and younger), and greatest among the older groups. One striking aspect: in music and the performing arts the gap is smallest among those aged between 55 and 64. Performing artists (from the 2016 study, excluding actors) are the exception in this respect: in the youngest group there is already a clear difference between the incomes of women and men, but this difference does not increase with age. We previously saw that film and music are rather ‘masculine sectors’ based on the share of men among the artists. However, this does not imply that the wage gap is also greatest between men and women. In both sectors the gender gap is smaller in terms of income than that in the visual arts and literature. This is where the differences are greatest. In the 35-44 and 55-64 age groups male literary artists even earn almost twice as much as female writers. The gender gap is smallest in the film professions.


The questionnaire also tried to assess the extent to which people were able to manage on their work as artists. A differentiation was made between single artists and those that lived with a partner. The cohabiters were also asked about managing based on their own income and that of their partner. 38% of single artists declared they could (easily, reasonably, or just about) manage solely on their income as an artist. Almost three-quarters (74%) succeeded in managing with the addition of other income. This also means that a quarter (26%) of single artists could not manage on their total income. Among artists that cohabit or are married, the picture is somewhat rosier thanks to the addition of the partner’s income. 63% declared that they could (easily, reasonably, or just about) manage with their income as an artist combined with that of their partner. 5% indicated they could not manage on their income combined with that of their partner.

4. Professional expenses

In addition to income there are also costs involved in the profession that can profoundly impact the financial picture. Diverse types of professional expenses were assessed in the survey. (We point out that when enquiring about the net income – see above – all income was included, and that we requested the professional expenses be deducted.)

The average professional expenses, for respondents that reported expenses, are substantial for all groups of artists, although we see clear differences between the disciplines. The professional expenses are clearly highest for musicians (on average €29,000 annually) and visual artists (€27,000). Approximately a third of these consist of remuneration for third parties. For the other disciplines professional expenses fluctuate around €14,000 annually. Costs for workspace and materials and equipment are major cost items for all disciplines – although we can establish that studio costs are highest especially for visual artists.

5. Job satisfaction and work-family combination

Artists are exceptionally satisfied with the content-related characteristics of their job. Nine out of ten artists find their work as artists challenging and interesting in terms of content and are satisfied with the artistic aspects related to the job. More than eight out of ten praise the possibilities for personal development. This large degree of content-related satisfaction recurs in all disciplines. In contrast there is dissatisfaction with the extrinsic aspects of the job (e.g. remuneration and job security). Over half of the artists surveyed (54%) are dissatisfied with the level of their total income. Dissatisfaction with job security is even greater, 61% indicates they are dissatisfied. Nevertheless, over a third remain positive with regard to their future prospects as an artist.

Significantly more writers and illustrators than directors and screenwriters, musicians and composers and performing artists find that their career is easy, to very easy, to combine with their personal and family life. Women and artists with children feel their career is less easy to combine with their personal and family life.

6. Considering giving up as an artist

Over half the artists state that they have never considered giving up. Only a minority indicated they thought about it often (6%), a substantial group (39%) said they sometimes thought about doing so. There are also differences between the differentiated disciplines. In each of the disciplines the percentage of artists that had already thought about ending their career as an artist or about changing career often, is less than 10%. Among the performing artists the group of respondents that sometimes or frequently considered giving up was the largest, at over 60%.

Whether the artists considered giving up their artistic profession relates to the diverse aspects of job satisfaction. If a person is more satisfied with the working conditions (remuneration, job security), with the content-related aspects of the art and/or the training and support offered, he or she is less inclined to consider giving up as an artist.

7. Support, membership and channels of advice

A large number of respondents identify the lack of business-related information in their initial education as a shortcoming. They also believe that it is not only important for students to receive information about the business and practical side of being an artist, but also that more practical experience could be acquired during education so that the transition from education to the practice is not too abrupt.

The majority of the artists are satisfied with the possibilities for further training at the artistic level. The artists are less positive when it comes to the possibilities for further education related to the business side, support from Social Agencies for Artists (SBKs) and employment agencies with regard to the business-related aspects of the job and the support provided by professional organisations. Here we should point out that the largest groups are found in the midway category between satisfied and dissatisfied, which may indicate they are less familiar with the options for further training and support rather than actually being dissatisfied.

Artists that are members of an industry organisation are markedly more satisfied. By including membership of industry organisations we also partly explain the difference between directors and screenwriters on the one hand and musicians on the other. Compared with the other groups, directors and screenwriters are more likely to be members of an industry organisation and this partly explains their high degree of satisfaction. This also applies to writers and illustrators.

There are several channels through which artists can obtain support, e.g. trade unions, management companies and representatives. With the exception of the trade union and Smart, generally these channels are extremely discipline-specific. If we examine the extent to which the artists surveyed are affiliated to these organisations, the low level of membership among the visual artists stands out.

Only half of the visual artists are members of at least one of the aforementioned organisations, whereas three-quarters or more of those in the four other disciplines are members of at least one of the organisations supporting these professions. In addition the nature of the organisations to which the artists belong also differs. Performing artists are remarkably more likely to be a member of trade unions. Membership of management companies that are responsible for collecting and distributing copyrights and broadcasting rights is more common among directors and screenwriters, writers and illustrators and musicians.

Colleagues and accountants represent the main channels for obtaining advice or information. Employers and commissioning parties – and where relevant for specific disciplines – also producers, publishers and gallery owners – represent an important personal channel for obtaining advice too. The Kunstenloket is also cited by a considerable number of artists as an information channel. Yet these channels do not appear to be equally important to all the groups. Writers and illustrators turn to them less and they obtain more advice via their industry organisation than artists in other disciplines.

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