Learn more about visual arts creation by exploring the latest statistics on professional artists.

Get the facts about their demographic profile, and find out more about career development and incomes.

Profile of professional artists

Visual artists often practice outside urban areas – and most believe it has a positive effect on their practice

According to Throsby and Zednik, around half of all visual artists (49 percent) and a third of all craft practitioners (34 percent) are located in a regional or remote area. In comparison, 47 percent of writers, 12 percent of dancers and 19 percent of musicians lived in a regional or remote area.

On average, living outside a capital city was viewed positively by regional and remote practitioners. Craft practitioners were amongst the most positive of any artists, with 74 percent agreeing the effects were more positive than negative.

Table 1- Proportion of visual arts and craft practitioners located regionally and effects on creative practice

Visual arts practitioners (%)Craft practitioners (%)All artists (%)
Proportion located in a regional, rural or remote area493431
More positive effect of living outside a capital city on creative practice607461
No effect of living outside a capital city on creative practice 8313
More negative effect of living outside a capital city on creative practice312325

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Women are more likely to create visual arts than men

Significantly more women practice visual arts than men. This gender balance is reflected throughout different parts of the visual arts sector – from children’s participation, to hobbyists and the professional sector.

Throsby and Zednik estimated in 2009 that almost two thirds of professional visual artists and four-fifths of craft practitioners were women (63 percent and 79 percent), relative to 51 percent of all artists.

The Census figures for visual arts occupations show more women are employed in visual arts occupations than men (55 percent to 45 percent), with the exception of sculptors (68 percent men).

In visual arts related occupations (including design, art teaching and picture framing) the gender balance depends on the occupation. Women are more likely to be employed in occupations such as:

  • Art teachers
  • Fashion designers
  • Interior designers.

Men are more likely to be employed in occupations such as:

  • Photographers
  • Picture framers
  • Illustrators.

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Income and career development

Most visual arts practitioners work in a freelance capacity – and many face insecure economic conditions

Within their principal artistic occupations, very few visual arts practitioners work as ‘employees’. Throsby and Zednik found that 87 percent of visual artists and 92 percent of craft practitioners operate as freelance or self employed individuals.

Throsby and Zednik point out that a substantial majority of artists therefore face insecure working environments for their artistic work, forgoing the sorts of benefits that employees customarily receive, such as sick leave, maternity leave, and employer’s superannuation contributions.

Some visual arts practitioners believe they lack adequate skills to manage their business affairs as a freelance artist, and almost a quarter have no arrangements in place for their future financial security (such as superannuation schemes).

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Large proportions of visual artists are emerging or mid-career artists

Throsby and Zednik found that visual artists are more likely to say they are ‘beginning/starting out’ or ‘becoming established’ than other artists.

Craft practitioners are more similar to other types of artists, in that larger proportions say they are ‘established’ or ‘established, but working less intensively than before’.

Both visual artists and craft practitioners believe the most important factors inhibiting their professional development are:

  • Lack of financial return from creative practice
  • Lack of time to do creative work due to other pressures and responsibilities.

Visual artists were less likely to say that a ‘lack of work opportunities’ was the most important factor, compared to other artists.

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Creation  -  Visual Arts

Australia’s 12,800 visual artists are well educated, with 90 percent undertaking formal training to become a professional artist.

Creative training is also valued outside the core arts sector: 20% of visual artists apply their artistic skills in creative industries such as advertising, design and architecture, and 20% apply their artistic skills in non-cultural sectors such as health.

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Visual artists are highly qualified and establish their practice through many years of formal training

Visual arts practitioners place a greater emphasis on formal training[1] than other professional artists, with 90 percent of visual artists and 87 percent of craft practitioners undergoing formal training to become a professional artist, compared to 77 percent of all artists. They are also the most likely of all practising artists to be still engaged in training, with a third indicating they are still in the process of establishing their careers.

More than two thirds of visual artists saw formal training as the most important type of training contributing to their professional career as opposed to private training (emphasised more by musicians) or learning on the job (emphasised more by writers).

[1]   Formal training is defined as training that leads to an award given by an institution such as a university or TAFE.

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Visual arts practitioners are older than other artists when they establish themselves as artists

The visual arts practitioners surveyed by Throsby and Zednik were, on average, older than other artists such as actors and dancers.

The average ages of visual arts and craft practitioners at the moment of their establishment was 36 and 34 respectively, which is older than all artists (31 years).

The average age of a practising professional visual artist was 50 years, while craft artists were slightly younger at 46 years of age.

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Creation  -  Visual Arts

All types of artists face challenges meeting their minimum income requirements, but visual artists earn amongst the lowest incomes of any artists, despite being one of the most highly educated groups in the workforce.

In 2009, the average visual artist spent 42 hours a week across arts and non-arts work, and earned $34,900 from all sources.

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Visual artists earn amongst the lowest creative incomes, despite devoting more time to their practice than other artists

Visual arts practitioners spend longer hours on their principal artistic occupation each week compared to other artists (28 hours vs. 22 hours).

The gap between the time they actually spend on creative work and the time they would prefer to spend is smaller in comparison to other artists.

However, this investment of time is not reflected in the earning patterns of artists. Visual artists earned an estimated median annual income of $4,500 from their creative work in 2007-08. This is two-thirds of that earned by the other artists ($7,000) and less than half of the median creative income of craft practitioners ($10,000).

All artists earn less than similarly-educated professionals in other industries. Cunningham and Higgs found that that the mean full-time annual income of those in arts occupations was 16 percent lower than para-professionals and advanced clerical occupations.

Full time visual arts practitioners (including painters, sculptors, potters etc.) earn a median income that is between $14,600 and $24,600 less than that earned by the average workforce.

 

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Visual arts practitioners often work in the wider cultural industries, and earn most of their income outside the core arts sector

Visual arts practitioners often work in the wider cultural industries, and earn most of their income outside the core arts sector

Income earned by visual artists from their core creative work is well below the income required to meet their basic needs. Like other artists, many visual artists work in other occupations and/or rely on family or other kinds of financial support.

Throsby and Zednik found that compared with other artists, visual artists earn proportionally less in arts-related fields such as teaching arts, earning only $5,500 from this work. Instead they rely more on non-arts related work (eg graphic design, hospitality) to be able to support their artistic practice, earning a median non-arts income of $15,800 annually. Visual artists and craft practitioners are more likely than other artists to work in wider cultural and related industries, such as advertising, design and media industries.

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Many visual arts graduates go on to careers outside the arts

In 2009, the ABS reported that almost 77,000 Australians aged 15 to 64 had a non-school[1] qualification in ‘visual art and crafts’.

Of those qualified in visual arts and craft, 36 percent had a qualification in Fine Arts, with other common qualifications including Photography (21 percent) and Crafts/jewellery-making/floristry (20 percent).

Whilst adopting a wider definition of ‘visual art and craft’ than other sources, these figures confirm that significant numbers of Australians are qualified in visual arts. The ABS estimates that the number qualified in ‘visual art and craft’ is similar to ‘architecture and urban design’, and above the performing arts.

When compared with estimates of those practising professionally, these figures suggest that many visual arts graduates go on to careers in other industries.

[1]   Non-school qualification refers to educational attainments other than those of pre-primary, primary or secondary education.

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Visual arts graduates face challenging conditions entering the workforce

According to Graduate Careers Australia, just 53.9 percent of ‘Visual/Performing arts’ graduates are working full time four months after graduating – a lower proportion than all other fields of education reported.  The proportion has declined since 2007, when 66.9 percent of graduates were working full time. As shown in the graph below, the decline has been more marked than that seen for graduates in other fields.

Graduate Careers Australia also ranks ‘Art and Design’ as the 22nd field of education out of 23 in terms of starting salaries, just behind Pharmacy (pre-reg).

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Arts and craft are the primary creative activity for Indigenous Australians, but main-job employment has declined

Indigenous ‘arts and craft’ are important forms of creative expression for Indigenous Australians, with 17 percent of those aged 15 and over (almost 56,600) estimated to participate in 2008. The 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) also found that 5.7 percent of Indigenous Australians (15,950 people) received payment for making Indigenous ‘arts or craft’.

However, only 524 Indigenous Australians were employed in visual arts and craft activities as their main job according to the 2011 Census. These artists were more likely to be employed as painters.

This figure is lower than that found in the 2006 Census, when 676 Indigenous people were employed in visual arts and craft occupations as their main job.

In 2001, 26 percent of Indigenous communities had access to an arts or cultural centre, relative to 65 percent who had access to a sporting facility.

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