Artists train to suffer poverty

April 12, 1996

Higher education and formal training do so little to improve the earning power of artists that there is little economic justification for investing in them, an Arts Council report has concluded.

Artists, including performing artists, tend to have longer periods of training or higher education than the average member of the workforce, but earn less than those in comparable professions. Arts courses continue to be very popular, despite such discouraging financial prospects, building an oversupply of artists which has helped to erode rates of pay.

The report says that few students have sufficient information on which to base their decision to train as artists and tend to overestimate their chances of success.

Author Ruth Towse, a researcher in the department of economics at Exeter University, suggests that higher level qualifications consequently have little worth in the artistic sphere. On-the-job and informal training often carry more weight.

"However much formal training is undertaken and however good is its quality, what is sought by those who employ the services of artists is talent and the ability to use it in specific contexts," she writes.

Oversupply of arts graduatesis causing concern amongtrades unions across Europe. The report says: "Because there is no shortage of artists, there is no case for subsidising training for artists so as to increase supply; there is always a shortage of truly gifted artists, but talent probably cannot be taught".

The Economics of Artists' Labour Markets, by Ruth Towse. Available from the Arts Council, 14 Great Peter Street, London, price Pounds 5.

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