Mid-career artist survey findings: 'I've emerged but nobody noticed'

Mid-career artist survey findings: 'I've emerged but nobody noticed' Jeannie Driver, Quarterly Summary, 2011

We report on our recent survey of mid-career artists

Last autumn we carried out a survey of artists to find out what the term 'mid-career' means to them.

At what stage in their professional life do artists consider they are 'mid-career'? How does the art world view them? What are the factors that enable them to flourish? And, conversely, what inhibits their success?

The feedback has been very enlightening and will help us design a programme of career support to artists in 'mid-career'.

A huge thank you to all who completed the survey. Here is what you said.

Main findings

Who responded
138 artists completed the survey, 83 female and 55 male. A significant majority of respondents (117) were in the 35 – 64 age bracket.

What does the term ‘mid-career’ mean?
There was some uncertainty about what the term ‘mid-career’ means, but 64% of respondents thought it probably applied to them. “I’ve emerged, but nobody noticed", said one person, summing up the feeling among many respondents that opportunity diminishes with experience and age.

Roughly half the respondents had undertaken an MA.

Levels of success
While a few people reported slow but steady professional progress, the majority of respondents told a less positive story.

  • 47% never take part in residencies
  • 46% rarely sell their work
  • 32% rarely exhibit their work

Time spent in the studio
Most people spend about 30% of their time in the studio. Only 16 respondents spend as much as 70% of their time in the studio.

Earning power
It is clear from responses to our survey that professional recognition does not automatically translate into increased earning power. Anecdotal comments indicate that it has become significantly more difficult to make a living in the past three years.

Factors that inhibit professional development
Many factors inhibit people’s ability to progress, including family commitments, geographic isolation, changes in the external funding environment (especially for participatory projects) and fewer opportunities (e.g. public art commissions). There was also often a perception of being ‘out of the networking loop’.

  • 50% are held back by childcare responsibilities
  • 47% lack business or promotional skills
  • 46% are unfamiliar with art world networks
  • 45% lack self-confidence
  • 35% are geographically isolated

What would help?
Most respondents said they would like the opportunity to network and travel beyond their immediate locality, and would welcome more contact with other artists and opportunities for peer critique.

Other things that came up included:

  • Advice about writing and communication
  • Guidance about how to secure media coverage
  • Help with establishing or improving an online presence
  • More contact with curators and collectors
  • Better understanding of both commercial and public galleries
  • More knowledge of opportunities for artists
  • Advice about pricing and selling work
  • Help with grant applications and fundraising
  • Access to specialist resources and equipment

And some general observations...

“The majority of support targets young, new and emerging artists. Mid-career artists are deemed not to have the same need for support, which is obviously not true, particularly with arts practices which are not gallery-based.”

“There are the few top artists, then there's the huge mass not making a living. How do we create a middle tier who have the potential to be 'top' in 10 years, but need to manage their practice to sustain them artistically and financially in the medium term? I feel I need specific, tailored advice that matches my relatively developed practice with emerging niches in the art world. Generic doesn't really help.”

“It is not helpful to be placed in a group with other old people, most of whom have lost it in about 1975. I would be interested in talking with young artists, recent graduates and new curators, as I am most interested in new ideas.”

“In an ever changing economic and art scene all information relevant to the 'new world' is vital. Never be complacent with what you think you know.”

Do you consider yourself a mid-career artist?

If you would like to be kept informed about our planned programme for mid-career artists,

sign up here >