Post from March, 2019

Art and Money

Sunday, 17. March 2019 23:38

There’s no money in art. Everybody know it: conservatives, liberals, moderates of every strip and hue. Everybody. That’s the number one reason that parents give for discouraging their children from pursuing the arts. They are sure their kids will starve, because it’s common knowledge that there’s no money in the arts.

Except, it’s not true.

Recently two reports were released that challenged this conventional wisdom.  One was 2019 State of the Arts Report for the State of Texas and covered the year 2017. The other was data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and covered the year 2015. These reports went a long way toward refuting the common mythology concerning art and money.

The BEA/NEA data shows that the arts sector contributed more to the US economy than the construction, transportation and warehousing, travel and tourism, mining and extraction, utilities or agricultural sectors, $763.6 billion to be precise. There are only two sectors that contribute more: retail trade and healthcare and social assistance. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The key findings were these:

  • That $763.6 billion constituted 4.2 percent of the GDP.
  • The arts sector involves 4.9 million workers who earned $372 billion in total compensation
  • The arts added “four time more to the U.S. economy than the agricultural sector and $200 billion more than transportation or warehousing.”
  • The arts had a $20 billion trade surplus.
  • Between 2012 and 2015 the arts had an “average growth rate of 2.6 percent, slightly higher than 2.4 percent for the nation’s overall economy.” The growth rate was 4.9 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Texas, unlike some other states, is not mentioned in the BEA/NEA report. However, Texans have their own state-level report. Here are the key findings from that report:

  • The arts industry in Texas generated $5.59 billion in 2017.
  • That amount generated “nearly $350 million in tax revenue.”
  • “Houston and Dallas each generated nearly $1 billion.”
  • “Austin and San Antonio each generated more than $350 million.”
  • The “arts-and-culture industry” has grown 15.5 percent during the last 10 years.
  • The arts sector of the Texas economy employs “nearly 800,000” people.
  • Arts jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent by 2026

And this in a state that “is 41st in arts funding among all U.S. states.

It should be obvious that the impact of the arts at both the state and national level is tremendous. In fact, Robert L. Lynch, the CEO and president of Americans for the Arts, has said “The U.S. [BEA’s] research makes clear that, if you care about jobs and the economy and infrastructure, you need to care about the arts. Strategic investment in our arts and cultural organizations is not an extra, it’s a path to prosperity.” The BEA/NEA data is illustrated in a series of charts and tables and is broken down by states.

And the value of the arts is not just dollars. Research indicates that in Texas “students enrolled in arts courses attend school more regularly, have a 15% higher pass rate on standardized tests, are more likely to stay in school, graduate, and attend college.” Data also shows that “art in hospital settings can reduce patient anxiety, pain, length of stay, and readmissions.

So the next time you hear someone say that arts are a waste of time and energy and that no one can possible make a living in the arts, point that person to the data that tell us that the opposite is true. The arts have a huge impact on American life and economy. The arts matter—in more ways than we realize.

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Want to Be Famous? Make Some Friends

Sunday, 3. March 2019 23:03

We’ve all heard the saying “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” It turns out that in the case of artists, it’s not what you know or who you know; it’s how many who’s you know. In a 2018 study of abstract artists’ fame, Paul Ingram and Mitali Banerjee determined that cosmopolitan social networking was a better indicator of fame than either creativity or originality. Essentially, the study found that artists generally labeled “abstract” were famous in direct proportion to the size of their circle of friendship, with more fame attributed to those whose groups of friends were multinational.

A thorough discussion of this study by Casey Lesser can be found at artsy.net. In this article, Lesser posits that not only were diverse networks important as indicators of fame, but that they were also a “source of creativity” and had the additional benefit of providing the artist with a “cosmopolitan identity.”

Much of the data for this study originated with a 2012 exhibition about the birth of abstraction at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. MoMA has provided an interactive diagram of who knew whom that clearly makes the point that the most connected artists—in this case Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky—were the most famous.

And lest we think that this study represents an anomaly, remember that Emily Dickinson did not become famous until relatives who had much wider social networks worked to get her poems published. It is also notable that people who are famous in one art can let it be known that they are involved in another art and instantly be more famous in that second field than many who have worked in the field for a lifetime, but who have had much smaller networks of friends and acquaintances. For example, Jim Carrey and Jonathan Winters are two comedian/actors who have become almost as famous for their paintings as for their performing.

So what does that mean to us?  It means, simply, that all the hype about establishing a diverse social network isn’t hype, it’s the path to recognition. Of course, there is no indication as to whether today’s social networks, e.g. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, et al constitute networks of “friends” as the term is used in this study, i.e. a group of people who actually know each other. One would guess that the more active one is in any given forum, the more likely s/he is to be able to call it a real group of friends.

Please note also that the more diverse the group of friends, the more likely it is to indicate potential recognition. Also, internationality counts.

In concrete terms, this means that we must “meet new people and network across professional industries in order to open [ourselves] up to career opportunities and advancement….We won’t become famous in a vacuum and should seek to diversify our social circles.” And although we may not want to be movie-star famous, we probably do want to have our work seen and known. That, in itself, is a kind of fame. To achieve that we must not only maintain social networks, but we probably need to curate our followers and followings, so that we come to actually know those with whom we interact.

And we must not forget personal, in-person networking, which is probably the most potent form of networking going. If Ingram and Banerjee’s study is to be believed, in order to have our work known to the world we must enlarge our circle of friends. Today would be a good day to start.

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