Home Magazine Contrasting the Art World today: the Raw Truth

The Art World is not just about wonderful openings or world record sales at auction…

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In the Art World, on one side we have wonderful openings and world record sales at auction, but on the other the artist is not wealthy at all… 

It is a complex and controversial situation which makes it difficult for artists and professionals to continue working in the Arts. As thoroughly explained by Artist and Economist Hans Abbing in his book “Why are artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts” (2008), how we see Art itself influences the unbalanced structure of the Art World.

Art is sacred. 

It is a hobby, but artistic talent is an incredibly glorified gift which benefits us all. Humanity needs it, but we cannot put a price on it. This line of thought is unsustainable and contradictory.


Vincent Van Gogh, The Bedroom (1889), Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.


We believe Art to be necessary – even essential – but the world is not in any way a sustainable one for young artists and professionals. Indeed, we all imagine artists as Bohemian figures who dedicate all their resources to Art. However, we tend to see this problem as one of the past even though it is still an issue today.

Some associations have been shedding light and contrasting the situation in which many artists still live and struggle to build their careers.

According to the Belgium Organisation Kunstenpunt (2020), a study looking at a group of visual artists highlighted that only 12.5% of visual artists find themselves working in paid employment. It is a ridiculous and embarrassing figure. 

Additionally, many of them can only survive if it is their secondary employment - 32% of respondents. Furthermore, 50% of those who are self-employed earn less than €12,000 net a year.


AWI, AWI Marching for rights in Italy, 2021, Courtesy of AWI Art Workers Italia.


In Italy, the recently formed association AWI (Art Workers Italia) has created the first report about the raw truth in Italy. It confirms the tragic situation. According to them (2021), as well as often juggling more than one job and working more than the maximum of 48 hours a week, 86% of people working in the arts has obtained at least a master’s degree, and nearly one third has studied abroad. 

Highlighting an even more severe profile than that underlined by Kunstenpunt, they state that 48.9% of Art workers earn less than €10,000 each year, which is even lower than the poverty threshold in Italy (€10,299).

The organisation Platform BK founded in 2012, is one of the institutions which is trying to help build better systems, like AWI. Researching the role of Art in Society today and taking action to enable better Art Policies, both propose fee guidelines to guarantee artists and professionals a fair pay.

These can be used by artists, institutions and organisations. One-hundred important museums, like the Stadelijk Museum in Amsterdam, are already adopting them.

This is the start of a different Art World which breaks the unsustainable system underlined by Artist and Economist Hans Abbing…

Art is sacred. But let’s make basic rights sacred as well.



AWI, AWI Marching for rights in Italy, 2021, Courtesy of AWI Art Workers Italia.




Cover image: Michael Holtz, Photo12 (Francis Bacon in his studio), Courtesy of the Tate ©2021 Tate

Written by Zoë Rivas Zanello

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