Reflections on Artists & Art Materials USA 2009

Artists and Art Materials cover

October 20, 2009. The International Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) and American Artist magazine recently released the report Artists & Art Materials USA 2009. The most interesting component of this survey is the analysis of active artists in the United States today. According to the report's Executive Summary, there are 4.4 million active artists in the U.S. today. Of this 3.2 million are identified as recreational artists, 600,000 as professional artists, and 600,000 as college students taking art classes. Of the 600,000 college students taking art classes, only 122,000 are students seeking an art degree.

The report looks at the volume of art being created and how much artists spend on their craft. The report points out that the 4.4 million active artists spent $4.2 billion on art supplies. The number of artists and the money spent on art supplies are of course important data points to the art supplies industry and this report is clearly directed at art materials suppliers. The bulk of the free Executive Summary (which was at but is no longer available) addresses art and artists in a way relevant to that business. The report itself is divided into the following sections:

  • Executive Summary
  • Active Artists
  • Art Materials Retailers
  • Art Materials Suppliers

Unfortunately only the Executive Summary is available to the public. Distribution of the full report is limited to members of the International Art Materials Trade Association.

Quoting from the Executive Summary:

Historically the art materials industry has focused on traditional art materials product categories, but artists now spend only half their art-related budget on these; the other half is spent on classes and workshops, books and magazines, framing, and non-traditional materials. This report forecasts a growing future for art materials businesses that can provide the full range of what artists need alongside the quality, knowledge, and service these businesses are known for.
This report is based on spring 2009 surveys of 2,714 active artists; 141 specialty art materials retailers; and 78 art materials suppliers as well as analysis of government data and numerous industry interviews.

Of the artists who participated in the survey, 367 were categorized as professional artists, 1,970 as recreational artists, and 377 as student artists. I found the method used to classify artists interesting. Active Artists (4.4 million) were defined as artists who were actively engaged in art and completed 10 or more artworks in the previous year. Professional Artists (600,000) were defined as artists who sold most of their artwork. I am not sure of the exact definition of sold in this context. Does "sold" mean that the artists successfully sold most of the art they created or does "sold" means that most of the art created was made for the purpose of selling versus an artist who creates art primarily for personal pleasure? The survey does point out that 1.9 million (60%) of the Recreational Artists sold their artworks. Recreational Artists (3.2 million) were defined as active artists who were not professionals or students, and College Art Students (600,000) were defined as individuals taking art classes at college/university to earn a degree - although this latter number doesn't seem to fit in with the report's statement that there are 122,000 college students seeking an art degree.

Some other statistics that I found interesting had to do with the quantity and types of art being created. The survey found that the median number of artworks created per year by Professional Artists was 75, 36 for Recreational Artists, and 57 for College Art Students. For those not statistically inclined, the median represents the middle value. This means that if all the 367 Professional Artists surveyed were sorted and ordered based on the number of paintings they produced, half the artists surveyed (183) created less than 75 artworks, and the other half of the artists (183) created more than 75. And the one artist standing 184th in line would have created exactly 75 artworks. Unfortunately no other statistical information as to the quantity of art created was provided in the Executive Summary. Not being a NAMTA member, I can only speculate on the amount of detail provided about artists and their art in the report's section on Active Artists.

The other portion of the survey that caught my attention was that which categorized the art created by Recreational Artists. Being a digital artist I was pleased to see that digital art was the third most popular type of art being created.

Art Created by Recreational Artists During 2008
Type of ArtPercent of Art
Miscellaneous items: books, cards, found art, sculpture, mixed media, etc. 30%
Drawings: Ink, Pen, Pencil, Pastel, etc.25%
Digital art18%
Paintings: Acrylic, Oil, Watercolor, etc.17%
Murals, functional art, communication art10%

One of the key findings of the report was that "Computers are now an art tool." According to the survey, 75% of the artists polled used computers at some stage of the art creation process. As more and more artists incorporate the computer into their workflow, it will become harder and harder for that minority of people who do not consider artwork created using a computer to be art to justify their position.