Does passion pay off? The socio-economic position of visual artists

1. Profile


Half of the visual artists in this study are younger than 45 years of age. 26% are older than 55 years of age. Only the group of writers and illustrators is older.


Overall the visual artists are characterised by a slight overrepresentation of men with 53%. However, the gender ratio shifts with age, as in the other disciplines. The group of artists aged 35 and under consists of 62% of women and 38% of men, while this ratio is completely reversed in the 65+ age group.


Compared with the artists from other disciplines fewer visual artists obtained an ASO qualification (General Secondary Education), and more of them clearly complete their secondary education in KSO (Art Secondary Education). 87% of the visual artists hold a higher education qualification. In higher education a master’s degree outside university was the most common qualification. Of all the groups of artists the visual artists is the one with most respondents with an artistic qualification – three-quarters of respondents.


Among the visual artists surveyed around 30% considered themselves (more) as a recognised artist and 41% (more) as an up-and-coming artist. The remaining 30% position themselves in between. Moreover the visual artists differ from the overall picture of artists in this study, in which 45% considered themselves (more) as a recognised artist.


The visual artists were asked to specify the genres of the discipline in which they worked. Three-quarters indicated that they practise several genres. Most visual artists practised: painting (47%), drawing (43%) and installation (41%).

2. Activities, remuneration and time allocation


In 2014, virtually all the visual artists (93%) stated that they worked on creating their own work. Just one in three was remunerated for this. 77% of the visual artists exhibited in that same year. Only 30% of those that exhibited received any remuneration for doing so. Around 40% of the artists cited research work, reflection and prospecting as activities. In 28% of cases this work was remunerated. Remuneration is only provided more often for commissioned creations (involving 50% of the artists in 2014), in 7 out of 10 cases. 37.5% of the artists indicated that they had at least one solo exhibition in 2014. 65% had at least one group exhibition.


Related activities performed by most of the visual artists involved the production of their own work (including sales and promotion). 77% of the visual artists stated they had performed this kind of work in 2014. A good 50% (also) handled the business aspects involved in the work. The third additional activity for visual artists appears to be teaching or giving workshops related to art (by 50%). As a rule only teaching is a remunerated activity, i.e. in 86% of cases. Visual artists that teach usually do so in a private context (37%), part-time art education (28%) and/or in higher (art) education (22%).


45% of the visual artists stated that they performed an artistic activity in a different discipline (such as directing, illustrating, performing music). Only the musicians are less active in other artistic disciplines.


The visual artists represent the group with the highest number of respondents (41%) that performed a paid job outside the artistic sector. A quarter of them performed a job in (non-artistic) education, 15% performed a job in the art-amusement-recreation sector, 7.4% in the catering and hospitality sector and 7.4% in the healthcare-welfare-social services sector.


Visual artists spend on average 53% of their time on artistic core activities as a visual artist and 76% on activities within the arts sector. A quarter of the artists can devote 80% or more of their time to creating art. On average 24% of their time is spent on non-art-related work. In general: the more someone feels recognised as an artist, the more time he or she devotes to his/her core activity and the less time he or she spends performing a job outside the arts.

3. Income profile


Visual artists rarely practice their artistic activities in paid employment (12.5%). The most common status in which visual artists organised their artistic activities is the secondary occupation self-employed status (32% of respondents). 25% worked under the main occupation self-employed status, 81% of these did so in the form of a sole proprietorship. 16% worked as an employee via a Social Agency for Artists (SBK) or employment agency. 25% made use of the Small Fees Scheme (KVR) in 2014.


Half of the visual artists with a self-employed status (for all their activities) earned less than €12,000 net a year. Three-quarters earned less than €21,000 and a quarter less than €4,000 a year. 50% of the visual artists working under the secondary occupation self-employed status received less than around €1,900 a year from billing and €27,000 from paid employment. (Compared with the other disciplines the income received from billed activities is low. That received from paid employment is comparable to the others (only performing artists working under the secondary occupation self-employed status differs, with a clearly lower income).) The visual artists that performed all their activities as an employee have a median income of €13,700 and a quarter of them earned less than €7,000 a year. As a result the group of visual artists obviously represents the lowest earners of all the artists.


As of the 35-44 age group the average income of the visual artists remains stable with age at around €20,000. The average net income of the 55-64 age group is only half as high at €20,200 as that of musicians of the same age. Film-makers of the same age in the study earn over three times as much. After the writers and illustrators the visual artists are the group of artists with the greatest gender gap in terms of income. This is greatest in the age group of 45-54 year-olds: while the men have an average income of €24,000, for women it is


On average the visual artists obtain 26% of their income from their core activity as a visual artist. 47% of their income is obtained from activities within the arts sector. Income from other paid work accounts for 30% of the income and unemployment benefits for 12%. With this income composition they come closest to the writers and illustrators. 11% of the visual artists obtained all their income from the core artistic activity. 32% obtained all their income from art-related activities.


7.6% of the respondents indicated that they are able to fall back on benefits via the artist status, 12.7% on a different unemployment benefit.


Visual artists represent the group that turns least to the KVR. Just 25% did so in 2014. 12% of visual artists in the study received subsidies in 2014 amounting to an average of €6,800.


Along with musicians visual artists have the highest professional expenses. Major cost items are remuneration for third parties, renting a workplace and costs of materials. On average the estimated total expenses for 2014 came to approximately €27,000.

62% of the artists indicated that they immediately reinvest any remuneration to cover expenses related to new work.

4. Job satisfaction

Overall artists are extremely satisfied with the content-related aspects of their job. Visual artists are no exception to this. Over 90% indicated they are (extremely) satisfied with the content-related challenges, over 80% with the opportunities for personal development and developing their practice, and with the artistic aspect of their work.

Visual artists are most pronounced with regard to their dissatisfaction with the remuneration for their work and the level of their income, which is not surprising given the level of the income.

Overall the artists surveyed are satisfied with the appreciation they receive from the public. Visual artists usually have less direct contact with their audience than live performers, yet 70% of the visual artists indicated they are (very) happy with the public’s appreciation. Experience of appreciation and dealings with critics is more divided.

Along with writers and illustrators, visual artists are the group of artists in which the largest percentage indicated that they find it easy to combine their work with a family (59%). 15% find it difficult to combine their work with a family. These groups, along with the musicians, are also the ones that least consider giving up their career as artists. 60% of the visual artists indicated they have never considered doing so.

5. Support

Visual artists are least likely of all the artists to be members of a professional association, with just 50% being members (whereas this increases up to 85% for the other groups of artists).

The main channels from which visual artists obtain advice are from colleagues (70% of the artists); 48% turn to Kunstloket and a good 30% obtain advice from respectively commissioning parties and gallery owners.


Delphine Hesters

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