from the Annual Austin, (The Guardian), 1994

When I wrote about Artist’s earnings, I knew it was a continuous problem, but I wasn’t aware quite how long discussion had been going on. The PEP/Dartington report on The Visual Arts (OUP 1946), in a section entitled The Livelihood of the Artist has the following to say:

“In the last census, 1931, some 10,000 people in this country described themselves as artists. The majority were either amateurs with private means or had other sources of livelihood. Today not more than seven hundred painters and thirty sculptors earn a living by their art. Of all careers theirs is the most hazardous. Though this artist is a professional man, and, like others of his class, has undergone a long and costly training, there is no diploma at the end, except those for teaching, or any measurable standard of professional competence. There are no firms for him to join, no partnership or practice for him to buy. More than any other professional, he is thrown back on his own resources.

Probably no other profession gives so much free service to the community. Owing to the practice of free admission to exhibitions, initiated probably by the public art galleries but obtaining now at almost all dealers’ exhibitions, the public expects to see and enjoy the artist’s work for nothing. C.E.M.A., [The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts] however has set an important precedent by paying the artist a hiring fee for every work he lends to one of its exhibitions. £5 is paid for an oil painting, £3 for a water-colour, drawing or embroidery, and sculpture is paid for at varying rates. Well over £1,500 has been paid to artists in this way.”

CEMA, before you ask, turned into The Arts Council, but whether it still pays its exhibiting artists I don’t know. The issue of the lack of diplomas was dealt with by the NDD, superceded by the Dip.AD. This last was supposed to be degree equivalent, but its graduates who went into teaching did not get the same pay as University graduates. Worse still (and one of the reasons for the Hornsey and Guildford and many other art school Sit-ins in 1968), the Dip AD catered only for an elite minority, with the majority of students in the so-called ‘Vocational’ courses, which were supposed to produce skilled artisans, but which in fact produced people with exactly the same skills, who applied for exactly the same jobs. Artists and designers now get degrees: the situation otherwise hasn’t changed much, except that, with the extension of higher education, there are probably as many trained artists around now as there were amateurs in 1931.

So who is going out to bat for these ‘hazardous career’ artists, who get very little back for their labours? After I wrote my last blog about earnings the DACS annual report flopped through the letter-box. So I emailed them to ask if they could intervene in a copyright problem artists are having with the Sainsbury Centre. (Briefly, the SC had solicited photos of local artist’s studios, to be exhibited as an adjunct to a prestigious (and very enjoyable) exhibition called The Artist’s Studio. No fees were offered, but we then found that our studio photographs were being exhibited without attribution -so that the public could not identify the artist). DACS answer was clear and unequivocal:

“As a copyright collecting society we manage the copyright of our members and as such we offer advice on copyright and related rights. We are not a trade association however and cannot therefore offer the type of intervention that you are seeking. Trade associations representing artists are the Association of Illustrators and the Association of Photographer[s].”

In the long run we really do need a ‘Trade Association’, or Trade Union, as I prefer to call it, to represent the general interest of all members, and to fight on principles, as well as to represent individual cases. As to the Sainsbury Centre problem, watch this space.

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