What do you think of when you think of data? I bet the stock market or economic health indicators come to mind easily.  What about the data that exists behind or is continuously manifesting itself in what you see or hear throughout your everyday experience? I hope to slowly redefine your thinking in ways small and large in a series of posts to navigate your mind down data-tangents, so to speak. I hope that when you are charmed by a Parisian-like rain, or are made gleeful by a new gadget and the possibilities it offers, that you truly savor the moment. But I also hope that you wonder, even if just for a fleeting moment, about the playful numbers that dance behind it, quietly telling the tale of a different, grander story.              

It has been 7 years since I last pressed my pencil against paper in order to recreate the human form. For the first time, in a long time, I drew again.

Last night I went to a drop-in life drawing class hosted by the No Vacancy Gallery in Melbourne. Before it was time to draw, all of the would-be artists for the evening sat on benches which encircled the model’s stage for the evening. Each of us held a large stack of empty pages meant to be filled with either quick gestures or and well-studied observations of position and poise.

As I waited for the session to begin, I overheard one artist speak softly to another about the difficulty in securing a job as an artist. She said that she didn’t fully comprehend how difficult being an artist would be as she learned her craft formally through the comfort of an educational framework.  She was, however, beginning to see the reality of it now as she entered the workforce. Her experience is not uncommon today as talent from all disciplines is pushed from colleges and universities into a supply-saturated job market. I began to be curious about the collective experience of the working artist today and looked to data for the answers.

 

The U.S National Endowment for the Arts released new research at the end of October about artists in the workforce. Their analysis identified the United States artist workforce to be 2.1 million members strong. While more than half of working artists (54 percent) work in the private, for-profit sector 35 percent are self-employed, suggesting they are more likely to be entrepreneurial. Needless to say, they are creative in their respective crafts and, as suggested by the report’s findings, are doubly creative in their approach to business.

 

A majority of working artists touch an aspect of each of our everyday lives. Perhaps many assume that artists produce work in lesser publically accessible environments, but over one-third of the workforce are designers (graphic, commercial, and industrial designers, fashion designers, floral designers, interior designers, merchandise displayers, and set and exhibit designers) whose work dictate the look and usability of products we use in and out of our day.  This is especially so in the increasingly visually rich digital environment we coexist in.

Not unlike the state of the wage gap in the overall U.S. labor force where women earn $0.80 cents for every dollar earned by men, women artists earn $0.81 cents for every dollar earned by men artists. The wage gap among professional women is even more dire: they earn $0.74 for every dollar earned by professional men.

 

The young artist’s whispered reflections of her current personal strife are telling of the experience of so many like her. If the research holds true into the future, she may be one of many whose artistry invisibly shapes what you and I often take for granted. She may likely use an entrepreneurial spirit to hedge her way forward as she begins to establish her career as an artist. And, as a woman, she will have to negotiate her rates for her work or for her salary in a way that keeps her competitive among men in her same line of work.