Music, as with any form of art, is extremely subjective. What sounds great to an ear trained to understand the intricacies of dubstep may sound wretched to a trance lover. Just as one may hold a deep emotional connection to wartime paintings, others may find those images disturbing and grotesque.
Given the extremely perceptual nature of art, how does one measure the success of an artist’s career? The number of records or prints they’ve sold? The fan following they’ve accumulated? These may be ways to measure one’s career success, but one recent cross-comparative analysis is looking at sociological factors such as class, gender, and race when determining whether an artist stands a fighting chance.
The study, conducted by Karol Jan Borowiecki, professor of economics at the University of Southern Denmark, reports that individuals from wealthy families are more likely to become artists. In other words, those from poor family upbringings have a significantly less chance of pursuing a career in the creative field. Data also suggested that artists become famous for who they know, rather than the quality of work they produce.
Titled “The Origins of Creativity: The Case of the Arts in the United States Since 1850,” Borowiecki’s paper found that a key demographic in determining an artist’s success is their family’s wealth. The study, published in February 2019, is based on US census data dating back to 1850, compared the “socio-economic backgrounds” and “geographic locations” of individuals who consider themselves artists, including musicians, authors, actors, or other creative professionals.
Basically, a child is two percent more likely to find themselves in a creative field with every $10,000 in additional family income. So a family with an income of $200,000 may have children who are four times as likely to become an artist as compared to someone coming from a household income of $50,000. However, family income did not affect the artist’s income, with the annual income for artists in the United States being generally below the national average.
As for gender, Borowiecki’s study reveals that an increasing number of women have been choosing creative careers, at least since 1890. Compared to men, women are 18 percent more likely to find themselves in a creative field. As for race and ethnicity, the number of minority artists has risen to 20 percent, according to data from a 2010 US census. According to 1850 census data, just two percent of minorities found themselves in creative fields.
Finally, Borowiecki’s study shows us that professional creatives typically gravitate to cities with more established art scenes, which is to be expected. New York City is currently home to the most artists, followed by Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
With so much riding on the question of exactly what determines artistic success, it may be impossible to calculate who finds a calling for the arts. After all, Steve Aoki, heir to the Benny Hana fortune, has consistently stated that his restaurant mogul father didn’t give him anything. While money may not be the key determinate for success, everyone can agree that it surely does help.
H/T: High Snobiety