Opportunities and Challenges for Fine Artists

According to the 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were approximately 221,900 working artists in 2008. This number includes 84,200 art directors, 13,600 craft artists, 25,700 fine artists (painters, sculptors, illustrators), 79,000 multimedia artists and animators, and 21,500 other types of artists and related workers. About 60% of artists and related workers are self-employed.

While the outlook is bright for multimedia artists and animators in fields such as motion-picture and video production, advertising, and computer systems design, very few fine artists can support themselves solely through the sale of the work. Most fine artists have at least one other job, such as working in a museum or gallery, teaching, or working as illustrators. Some artists hold jobs in unrelated fields and pursue art as a hobby or second career. Below are some of the challenges and opportunities that may affect art careers in the years ahead:


Lack of career preparation. Many art schools focus almost exclusively on teaching technique, without much emphasis on the practical business skills that artists need to earn a living. Today, anyone who wants to pursue a self-directed career such as art, should know how to promote and market themselves–online and in-person.

Balancing art creation with self-promotion. It can be difficult to focus on creating great art while continuously networking and working to get name recognition. It’s incredibly time-consuming to do both things well.

New sources of competition. Many retiring Baby Boomers are pursuing long-deferred dreams of becoming an artist. Unemployed or underemployed workers are trying to convert their art hobbies into new careers.


New tools for creating and displaying art. Technology is making it easier for artists to experiment with new forms of visual expression. For example, today’s digital-printing technology makes it possible to reproduce your art directly on fabrics, backlit films, metal, wood, or vinyls.You can also combine digital images with traditional art materials to create one-of-kind prints with texture and dimensionality And visual art is no longer confined to a frame. It can be displayed on computer screens or projected or applied to indoor or outdoor walls.

New opportunities to promote and sell art. Technology has opened up new ways for artists to promote and sell their work. For example, social media is making it easier for artists to build relationships with other artists, gallery owners, editors, art journalists, and potential buyers of their work. Online galleries make it possible for artists to show and sell their work to buyers around the world.

A wider, deeper pool of art collectors. A 2010 survey found that consumers are investing more in original art, which has become more widely available as artists have started exploring different ways to market themselves.  Digitally printed limited editions are making it easier for more people to buy art they truly love, instead of only those prints available from mass-market art publishers. Some gallery owners sell lower-cost editions to attract new customers who might someday become serious collectors. A growing number of health care facilities, corporations, educational institutions, and civic leaders are commissioning or collecting art because they recognize how much art can enhance our surroundings.