Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise

Project Items

A Creative Business? Towards understanding the livelihoods of visual artists


Visual artists are usually self-employed but they have rarely been studied from a small business perspective. For some artists and commentators the idea of the artist as a business is paradoxical. Almost all discussion and commentary on visual artists stresses their low and precarious financial rewards. Drawing upon the biographies of practising artists in the North of England, this study addressed a gap in understanding the processes and dynamics of artists’ livelihoods. The researchers concluded that artists’ business behaviour must be understood in the context of the range of mediating institutions through which they can sustain themselves economically while maintaining their commitment to art and identity as artists. These institutions are the commercial market for art, the supported arts sector, the non art labour market, the family, and co-operative artistic networks. The research did not, overall, support the commonly asserted incompatibility between artistic practice and business skills and attitudes. Some artists behaved quite entrepreneurially, although rarely with the objective of maximising financial gain.

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