Chapter 48: Poverty and Support for Artists
Hans Abbing In our society the value of art is high and yet the majority of artists are poor. Not only is the symbolic value of art high; often the financial value is high as well. People and institutions are prepared to pay high prices for artworks and performances, and governments and foundations spend huge amounts on prestigious new museums and concert halls. But the typical artist is poor. This sharp and paradoxical contrast can be explained: the low incomes are the consequence of the high symbolic value of art. This implies that poverty in the arts is largely structural. Subsidies intended to raise artists’ incomes tend to be futile and can easily be counterproductive. Poverty and work preference Many artists have such low overall incomes from work, including non-arts work, that they are likely to be poor. According to research in different countries and in various surveys, between one-third and one-half of the artists in the West and Australia have overall incomes from work that are at or below the so-called poverty line or subsistence level. The definition of who is an artist and who is not differs, but outcomes are not very different; that is, artists are poor. That these artists do not starve is due to support from various sources and income from assets. Looking at income from the arts alone instead of income from work in general, artists earn even less. In most Western countries a majority of artists would not be able to make a...
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