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Friday, November 18, 2011

Week 4 - Arts Education

Remember Week 4 of Work of Art when the studio was filled with young budding artists from A Studio in the School program? I thought of them today after completing the SNAAP (Strategic National Arts Alumni Project) survey for arts educated alumni. It's a very useful tool to see how us art kids have grown up and fared in the real world. The survey is also broken down into segments that ask what we actually gained from an arts education and what tools we've used in our jobs or ditched all together.

Sadly, for young artists, the outlook isn't rosy, but the results aren't SO bad that Tiger Parents should be completely terrified when Oliver drops the bomb that he's going to be an artist instead of a successful dentist. The biggest takeaway from the survey is that surviving as an artist and sticking with it is mother-fucking tough. Let's look at some of the results shall we?

13,581 alumni filled out the survey. Of those only 7% still consider themselves working artists, 6% writers or designers, 4% photographers. People working in arts education fared better with 24% working in that field. I remember my first day of class in art school when the professor scanned our bright eyes, and asked us to look to the person on our left and right. He then said that both of those people, statistically, would no longer be artists by the time they had graduated. He was right!

In context to the 99% movement, only 1% work as curators/gallery dealers/museum folk. They truly are the gatekeepers, aren't they? Even though so few people hold the keys, the median salary is still only about $30,000 for these peeps. Maybe not so 1% after all. I'm guessing Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling opted out of the survey.

If money isn't important to you, stick with your arts career: Arts admin, education, curator/dealer, designer, musician, photog, theater, writer -- they all make about $30k compared to non-artist counterparts in communications, admin/office and construction who make the same amount on average.

Dancers and crafts artists suffer the most at a median income of $15k. If you want to make more bling, you should become an architect ($50k), go into management ($50k), math/computers ($50k) or enlist in the military ($40k).

Of course, all of these results are for people who pursued some sort of arts degree. If you major in business or math and sciences to begin with, the median income would be higher. I'm guessing it's a bigger leap for a fiber artist to get a job at an investment firm, than say an econ major.

What about debt? Most survey-fillers say that getting a BA, BFA or MFA put them $15k in the hole while they average a $30k salary. PhD students have only $5k of debt on average and make about $50k a year. I'm guessing that most art grads actually have way more debt, but this survey reflects the cost of state schools as well as graduates who had their education paid for them (by grants or parents).

The SNAAP is a very enlightening survey, and if anything, I would encourage young artists to do the research to get an understanding of the challenges they face. I would use these results however, as motivation to keep pushing and keep making your art. Take advantage of all the resources your school has to offer (if you're going for a degree). I currently hold a BFA, and I have to admit, this survey makes me question the cost/value equation of going to grad school.

Remember: your experience and success will be very unique. I have worked with artists making less than $10k a year as well artists who make 6-figure+ salaries that employ multiple assistants. My favorite advice to young kids about pursuing a career in the arts comes from British playwright, Philip Ridley who said, "How dare you! How dare you try and be as good as me!" Hahahaha!

If you are an arts alumni, go to the web site and fill out now. It's the last day to do so!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Week 5 - Ai Weiwei update

Ai Weiwei "Sunflower Seeds" - image by Loz Flowers

When episode 5 of Work of Art, "Ripped From the Headlines," was filmed, Ai Weiwei's status and whereabouts were still unknown. I'm glad that the producers of the show provided a small epilogue about his release at the end of the episode. His battles with the Chinese authorities, however, are far from over.

Here is the latest report on his attempt to receive an administrative review of tax evasion charges that were cited by the Chinese government as the excuse for unlawfully detaining the artist for 81 days: China's Ai Weiwei appeals for lesser-known detainees. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Ai Weiwei was initially arrested without a formal charge, and it was only after immense international pressure, did the artist and social activist reappear in a highly unorthodox series of events. Since his release, he has been banned from leaving the country, and he has faced a series of hurdles in receiving a fair review of the charges set against him.

The artist rightfully calls the 1.3 million dollars the government requested from him as a 'ransom.' Supporters around the globe have pitched into his fund, but in a faulty catch-22, the act of paying the government is a tacit admission of guilt, even though it is required for a review to occur in the first place.

This is not the first time Ai Weiwei has been harassed by Chinese officials. In January of 2011, his studio in Shanghai was completely razed within a day. In 2009, he was beaten so badly by police, he had to undergo brain surgery. He remains one of China's most vocal critics on human rights abuses and the government's failed cover-ups. Weiwei is also one of China's most internationally recognized artists, notably celebrated for his contribution in helping to design the bird's nest Olympic stadium in 2008.

To keep up to date with Ai Weiwei, I highly recommend following this web site There will be a feature length documentary in 2012 called, Never Sorry, that highlights his creative process and struggle for individual expression. I admire artists and leaders who are able to blend their inner creative world with the pragmatic demands of the outer real world. Ai Weiwei is such an artist, but he understands the danger in becoming a lone symbol. That is why he uses his prominence as a bullhorn to speak of other injustices and disappearances that receive less attention: Ai Weiwei's documentaries of human rights abuses.

To conclude:

On a table in Ai's work studio, balloons printed with the words "Free Chen Guangcheng" were stuffed in a vase. Chen is a blind legal activist whose long confinement in his village in eastern China has sparked widespread anger.

Spread the word!

Follow progress of the Ai Weiwei documentary, Never Sorry, on Twitter here: