Why Are Artists Paid So Little?

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Written by Juha

Artists are paid so little because it’s very difficult to put a value on art. Art is not something we can objectively say is worth a specific amount of money. Often people paying for artwork or an artist’s services neglect to realize just how much time goes into creating art. Because of this oversight, artists aren’t paid the amount of money they should be paid.

Often artists are paid by the project and not by the hour. As artists, it’s difficult to separate your passion for art and the fact that this is your job, so you’ll spend more time on a project than it’s worth when looking at it from a strictly financial perspective. But let’s delve into that a little deeper.

Art Is A Passion

As we touched on above, anybody who works in the art field is probably passionate about it, and if they’re not, then they’re in the wrong job.

But this passion is often the undoing of an artist when it comes to being paid so little. Artists spend so much time on their passion projects because they want to send work out into the world that isn’t just great but as close to perfect as they can possibly make it.

The problem is, creating something of a truly outstanding quality takes time. Artists who are paid by the project, and not by the hour, will soon realize that the time they’ve spent on a project has probably resulted in them earning a fairly poor amount of money when they look at how much they have earned per hour.

But then, isn’t the fact that art is a passion sort of the whole point? 

People coming into this field with dreams of becoming a millionaire are unrealistic. Art isn’t about earning lots of money (although it should be about earning more money than you are earning right now because your time and your skills are valuable.

Art is a passion, so not earning a lot of money in the early years is to be expected.

Still, never underestimate your worth as an artist. Just because it is a passion doesn’t mean you should settle for terrible pay. There’s something to be said about paying your dues in any industry when you’re first starting out but make sure you can make a living off it too, and it’s the very least you deserve!

Besides, art is a passion for both the artist and the buyer, so make sure they’re paying a reasonable rate for receiving something they’ll love too.

Ikigai And Art

In Japanese culture, there is a concept that is known as Ikigai. Translated to English, this means “a reason for being.”

Essentially, Ikigai is all about finding your reason for living, the very thing that gives you purpose and makes you feel you are spending your time in a worthwhile way. One of the best ways to meet the concept of Ikigai is through art.

In order to address the concept of Ikigai, you must satisfy these four criteria:

  • Something you love
  • Something you can be paid for
  • Something the world needs
  • Something you’re good at

If you imagine those four things overlapping, in the center is Ikigai. The problem is that Ikigai is all about what gives your life purpose, not necessarily what earns you the most money.

Art, therefore, is a passion. It is your very reason for being an artist. You love what you do, and you do what you love, but this doesn’t always equate to being paid a reasonable rate, and that’s just the sad fact of the matter.

Art provides you with wealth in other areas besides money though, and the point of Ikigai is that these areas of wealth are far more important than money anyway.

Art feeds the creative soul. It encourages you to explore, play, and wonder. It gives your life meaning, and it makes you feel fulfilled. The fact that you’re making any money, even small amounts, is a wonderful thing when you look at everything else art gives you too!

When thinking about Ikigai and the concepts of something you can be paid for and something the world needs, you can quickly see that art isn’t there. 

While the world needs art, the world needs more health. While you can be paid for art, think about how much you can be paid by giving stock investing advice for people wanting to invest in stocks. 

You will notice how art is there, but not in the same sense as people wanting to get healthier or wealthier. Thus art is not as valued in the world as is health and money.

Art Is Not Monetarily Valued

Leading on from the reason you do art, there’s also the issue that art is not monetarily valued. Let’s take investing, for example. If you were a real estate investor, you could forecast how much you could earn from a project by the time you renovated it and sold it.

It might not always be 100% accurate, but there would be a general trend that you would know, so you’d be able to offer a pretty close estimate. 

With art, you can’t.

Art isn’t something you can objectively look at and say how much it will be worth in a year, five years, or ten. From the buyer’s point of view, they are purchasing something with no way to tell how much they might sell it for in the future.

Of course, there’s an argument to be had about art being a passion, so they should surely want to keep it, but from a strictly financial perspective, you can understand why buyers are more hesitant to part with their cash for artwork.

It isn’t fair, we can all agree on that, but it is just the way it works. This is why we come back again to the idea that being paid by the hour, and not by the project, is the only way for an artist to earn close to the amount of money they deserve.

It’s time for artists to see their skills and their time as being the service they are providing, not necessarily the finished product, and to monetize that, rather than the art itself.


Creating art should be something you do for the love of it, not the financial benefits of it. You should, of course, demand a reasonable rate for the art you create, but you shouldn’t expect to make millions from artwork, and you certainly shouldn’t expect to make lots of money straight away when you are just starting out.

What you should expect is a decent wage for the time you put in, so consider charging by the hour and not by the project, but remember that doing what you love is an amazing thing too, something that not everybody does.

This article is not all doom and gloom. It’s true that as an artist, you might struggle to make money initially, but there are ways you can earn a great wage as an artist; you just need to read more about it.

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