Craft Artists’ Education
In the second in a series of data snapshots from CERF+’s national research about the status of craft artists in the U.S., we focus on education and American craft artists. The data we collected in this study came from over 3,500 craft artists from every state in the U.S. who responded to our 2013 survey, which was distributed by CERF+ and the 46 organizations who helped distribute it to their artist members.
According to Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005, a 2008 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, artists are twice as likely to have earned a college degree as other members of the U.S. labor force. The results of CERF+’s study,Sustaining Careers: A Study of U.S. Craft Artists., confirm these findings for craft artists, who are 2.5 times more likely to have a college degree than other Americans. In addition, craft artists are more than three times as likely to have a graduate degree than other Americans.
Despite the high level of educational attainment, craft artists’ incomes are generally low to modest (see Craft Artists’ Income data snapshot). Making a living as an artist is a difficult and complex proposition, and there are myriad reasons why it’s difficult to earn a reasonable income from one’s work. One survey finding, however, stands out as a possible contributor—over eight in ten craft artists with either a BFA or MFA degree indicated that they did not receive adequate business or career-related instruction in school. While business education is not a guarantee for success, perhaps educational institutions could do more to teach the critical business skills that art school students need to succeed as practicing artists. This also underscores the importance of professional development programs for both arts graduates and non-academically trained artists.
Formal Education: All Craft Artists
Ninety-six percent (96%) of all craft artists who responded to the 2013 CERF+ survey had completed some college education, and over three-quarters of them graduated with at least a four-year degree. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30.4% of Americans over age 25 hold at least a bachelor’s degree and 10.9% have a graduate degree.
Nearly half of all craft artists surveyed have some college-level education in art or craft. Over a third have either a BFA or an MFA. About one-quarter are self-taught in craft, and only 4.6% were trained through apprenticeship.
Full-time (30+ hr./wk.) Craft Artists: Type of Art/Craft Training and GROSS Craft Business Income (Gross Business Receipts)
Higher levels of college instruction in art and craft do not appear to guarantee greater income than other means of learning about craft. Relatively few craft artists receive their primary training through apprenticeships, but those who did were more likely to have a gross business income (gross receipts) in excess of $50,000/yr. While we have no data to confirm this hypothesis, it’s likely that many craft artists with MFA degrees earn a living by teaching. While they may be able to maintain a full-time studio practice on the side, their priorities may be more involved with creating work in an academic setting than generating income through sales.
The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) which tracks the lives and careers of arts graduates in America indicates that the highest percentage of all occupations within the arts field of graduates have occupations in arts education (25%), compared to 5% who are craft artists and 14% who are fine artists.
If net craft business income (over $25K/year) is used as a measure, the rankings are the same but the differences between Apprenticeship, BFA, and Self-taught is less significant.
Art/Craft Training and Highest Level of Educational Attainment of Full-time (30+ hr./wk.) Craft Artists
By definition, craft artists with BFA or MFA degrees have completed either a four-year or graduate study program. A significant percentage of craft artists who described themselves as self-taught or said they received their primary craft training through apprenticeship, some art school instruction, or by attending short courses or workshops also had a four-year college degree (33%-40%) or a graduate degree (17%-27%).
The overwhelming majority of craft artists hold at least a four-year college degree, but there does not appear to be a positive correlation between the highest level of educational attainment and net craft business income. A college education may have many other benefits, including providing an artist with other paths to generate income. However, with craft business income as the sole criterion, a college education does not appear to be the path to guaranteed financial security.
For more in-depth information on this and other topics covered in the study, download the full report: Sustaining Careers: A Study of U.S. Craft Artists.