Coloured pencils

“Coloured pencils,” by Flickr user Alan Cleaver

Title: Artistic education matters: survival in the arts occupations

Author(s): Trine Bille and Søren Jensen

Publisher: Springer Journal of Cultural Economics

Year: 2016


Topics: artists, arts education, arts employment, barriers to arts careers

Methods:  Regression analysis, 1996-2012 data from Danish official statistics, literature review

What it says: Using official Danish statistics, the study analyzes more than 27,000 employment records of artists and journalists from 1996 to 2012, across five arts categories: music, dance, film and theater acting and directing, visual arts, and writing (including journalism). Two forms of regression analysis showed that having a formal arts education in one’s career field reduced the risk of the leaving the arts field in question for musicians, acting professionals, and writers/journalists. However, this correlation is not seen for visual artists and dancers (albeit with a relatively small sample in the dance group).

The study also notes that the bulk of attrition among artists happens during the first two years after starting an arts career. The study compares data from a 2005 French study – Gender differentiated effect of time in performing arts professions (Coulangeon et al), which investigated survival function estimates for performing artists in France – and notes that the French study also found the maximum period of vulnerability to be in the two year following entry to the labor market.

The Bille/Jensen paper cites further conclusions drawn from both the Danish data and the French data:

  • an arts career is a risky venture, with a comparably low success rate
  • the success rate of aspiring working artists differs by arts sector
  • theater artists have the lowest success rate in the first two years, followed by visual artists
  • musicians and dancers, along with those in the writers/journalists category, show less attrition in the first two years

What I think about it: Overall, it would have been helpful if there had been greater analysis of socioeconomic status and family and personal wealth – and their income implications – on career longevity in the arts. A related concern is the gender analysis for visual arts: while the study indicates that women have a greater arts career survival rate, it doesn’t explicitly investigate other income support from married partners as additional income sources. (This was more thoroughly explored in a similar 2011 study by David Throsby and Anita Zednik using data from Australia.) Finally, the inclusion of journalists in the writers group makes that data less relevant to the overall conclusions – as the authors themselves admit. They cite literature indicating that journalists operate in a more standard supply-and-demand labor market than artists in other creative sectors.

What it all means: This study uses a longitudinal dataset to provide solid analysis based on large samples and a long-time series, unlike previous studies in the area. The report provides empirical evidence that supports some intuitive insights for arts careers – including differences in career paths in various arts fields – which have been posited in other literature. Its conclusions contrast some of those noted in earlier reporting by Createquity on the complex relationship between higher education and artistic success. The analysis provides one key, demonstrable causal relationship: the connection between formal arts education and career longevity in fields such as drama and music. It indicates that, in certain sectors, there’s a likely causal relationship between having formal arts education and surviving longer in an arts career.

In contrast with the United States, Scandinavian countries may have more longitudinal datasets and rates of success in surviving in the arts – but one should be cautious in comparing countries with robust social safety nets to the United States, where socioeconomic and equity concerns may come into play. In particular, evidence for impact of formal arts education in Denmark for successful careers – where university education is free, and living costs are supported by a system of grants – may point to equity barriers for societies like the United States which have high, unsubsidized university costs, especially at the graduate level.