Is an Art Degree Worth It?

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When someone expresses an interest in majoring in arts, chances are, they might receive at least one comment discouraging them from pushing through, because “there is no money in art”. But just how true is this age-old notion? This might help you get the picture.

The cost of education

American college education is quite costly, and art institutions are among the most expensive colleges. As of 2015, the U.S. Department of Education found that, minus financial aid, 9 out of 10 of the most expensive institutions in the country are art schools.

For example, the estimated cost of a four-year education from Rhode Island School of Design is $245,000, whereas a degree from Harvard Law School would be around $236,000. Ironically, the average salary of the artist might not be as high as that of a lawyer, despite the higher costs of art school.

Increasing debt burdens

The national student debt levels have been skyrocketing for the past several years. Between 2005 and 2012, Forbes reported a 58% spike in the average student loan debt. In 2012, the average debt load for fresh graduates was $29,400. By 2017, this has risen to an average of $32,731.

The escalating student debt rates place art students in a vulnerable position. According to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), 66% of fresh art school graduates claim that their student loan debt has a significant impact in their lives. This burden could make it especially difficult for art school graduates to survive, especially since arts-related positions are usually associated with low wages.



Perhaps due in part to the heavy student loan burden, many art school graduates would rather pursue careers that are outside their field. In a report published by the artists’ collective, BFAMFAPhD, 90% of arts students are no longer working in the arts two years after graduation. Some opt to work in industries that are not entirely art-centric but still require artists’ skills — such as digital marketing, where visual art and design are needed.

Despite the financial drawbacks, artists are reportedly among the happiest professionals even in other countries. Specifically, art school graduates that are able to engage in artistic pursuits are reported to have high levels of overall satisfaction, positive self-image, social outlook, and confidence about the future. They are also found be unlikely to put importance on material things.

Organizational efforts

Many organizations are making an effort to bring the plight of artists to light. One of them is Debtfair, which is an exhibition that addresses the overwhelming debt among artists and other injustices in the art world. Organizations such as the Creative Capital, Art Strategies, and Center for Cultural Innovation also offer programs that are meant to help artists overcome their professional burdens.

The myth of the starving artist is a dated one, but it may still ring true for some art professionals. However, instead of collectively discouraging artists from pursuing their crafts, it might be better if we adopt a more supportive outlook towards them, whose works help bring color to the world.

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