By Sarah Wright
Potentially Surprising Numbers
A new study was released in early May, 2011, that focused on the career and financial success of graduates of undergraduate arts programs. The study included those who had majored in fine and studio arts, dance, music performance, theater and design. The researchers surveyed 13,581 graduates from arts colleges, arts high schools and arts departments within colleges and universities. Called Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, or SNAAP, this survey paints a picture of the professional lives of arts students as anything but bleak.
According to the study, more than 40% of graduates from each specific arts discipline reported that they are currently working as professional artists. This was highest in the design category, which reported that 59% of graduates are working as professional designers. This is perhaps not surprising, since design is a particularly in-demand field, with major companies hiring designers to help create and sell their products.
Not Totally Positive
Not all of the numbers reported by the study indicate positive outcomes, though. One particularly discouraging piece of information was the low level of income satisfaction reported by those who described themselves as professional artists. Additionally, only one-third of SNAAP participants felt happy with their job security. Still, these numbers don't necessarily indicate a reason to ignore the other positive aspects of the SNAAP report. Job security and income level seem like areas in which most professionals would feel some lack of satisfaction.
In spite of this report, it seems likely that the idea of a 'starving artist' will continue to perpetuate itself. Though many people making jokes about a lack of success after majoring in an arts discipline are probably actually arts students themselves, this kind of self-deprecating humor is likely a response to common stereotypes about the usefulness of an arts degree. The SNAAP presents hard data that can contradict these stereotypes, but will this really help?
It seems unlikely that attitudes will change, even in the face of the numerical evidence provided by SNAAP. But at least now, arts students will have some concrete facts to point to in order to convince worried parents that they're not making a mistake majoring in something generally considered to be a bad investment. And hopefully, studies like SNAAP will show that the United States is home to a vibrant, viable arts economy that needs well-trained professionals in order to succeed.
If you're a humanities Ph.D. candidate worried about your ability to find work after graduation, consider some alternative career paths.