The Value of Money

Past Project 2014

Initiating research on artists livelihoods and value systems around money.


Professional visual artists operate in a complex and little-understood economic context, often considered similar to that of small businesses. In reality, policy makers and funders struggle to fit artists within received economic models that rarely match their wider social status, how money circulates through the art world, the specific operation of reputation, and the value given to different forms of income that obtain in the different financial and non-financial markets in which artists operate.

Although money is of course required to function as an artist, little evidence exists on how artists culturally and practically value different sources of money: a reputable prize may mean critical validation but little money; working in an art school provides regular income but cuts time available to make work; commercial success can bring financial rewards but stymie risk-taking in the work that a market will accept. Although artists spend money in a wider economy in their off-duty lives – rent, holidays, utilities – current advocacy and career modelling assumes that the only acceptable income to an artist is via their studio practice – selling, exhibiting, commissions.

Artists operate in a multifaceted system of reputation, value, exchange, gift and money that resists much standard economic modelling and makes it hard to uncover exactly what services, support and forms of money visual artists actually need to compliment the value systems in which they actually operate. This literature review and focus group report begins a process of research by Artquest and our partners, a process we hope to continue with fuller research commencing in 2015.

This research build on our 2009 research: The Funding and Finance needs of Artists, as well as peers across the sector and internationally.  See the report bibliography for more details.

Image courtesy Regine Debatty via Flickr

Download The value of money: professional visual artists decisions around income