Who Identifies as an “Artist”? Arts Professionals Are Surprisingly Divided

Jennifer C. Lena and Danielle J. Lindemann examined the results of the 2010 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, a survey of individuals who have pursued arts degrees in the US. Focusing on two of the survey questions that asked about working in an arts-related occupation and identifying as a professional artist, the authors noticed that a significant number of respondents said they work in an arts-related occupation but do not consider themselves to be professional artists. This lack of self-identification may have implications for researchers and policymakers interested in tracking the attitudes and habits of creative professionals who are generally labeled artists.

Thirty-six percent of the respondents working in arts-related occupations reported that they were not professional artists. Teachers and designers made up a significantly high proportion of this group. After ruling out the possibility of human error and accounting for those individuals in arts-related jobs whose work does not primarily involve art production or performance (administrators, teachers, etc.), the authors found that still nearly a quarter of artistic workers did not identify as artists.

Looking closer at this group, which included craft artists, architects, photographers, web designers, sound or light engineers, graphic designers, and illustrators, the authors found that those who attended an arts-specific school (instead of an art program within a larger institution) or who had artists as parents or close relatives were significantly more likely to identify as professional artists. On the other hand, those who only began their arts training in graduate school or who were less embedded in an artistic community were less likely to say they were artists.

Many creative workers are reluctant to identify with the label of ‘artist,’ yet policymakers seeking to attract creative workers in order to increase the vibrancy of a creative place often market their projects to ‘artists.’ The results of this survey indicate that such marketing materials could be excluding a large number of creative professionals.

Lena, Jennifer C. and Danielle J.Lindemann. 2014. "Who is an Artist? New Data for an Old Question." Poetics doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2014.01.001

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