Having a calling doesn’t pay: reforms needed to artists’ social security

According to an extensive survey study, the Finnish copyright system does not ensure a livelihood for artists. They often make their living out of small fragments, and copyright revenue is unevenly distributed. Nevertheless, artists feel compelled to use their talents.

A fraction of Finnish artists makes a living out of copyright fees. Copyright revenue is also very unevenly distributed in various fields of art.

“Most of the copyright fees accumulate onto a small number of successful musicians, while most music professionals get hardly any. An author experiencing average success may receive a few hundred euros a year. In the visual arts, there are practically no copyright fees to speak of,” says Vehka Hakonen, research assistant in the Art, Copyright and the Transformation of Authorship research project.

The project studies how artists make their living and what kinds of experiences they have of the copyright system.


Artists live on crumbs

The data, collected from 300 survey responses and 12 in-depth interviews, shows that Finnish artists put together their livelihoods from many smaller components: teaching, gig work, freelancing, temporary jobs, social benefits and income support. In addition, many artists have part- or full-time day jobs.

Grants are another important source of income, but there are few of them and competition is fierce. Grant recipients enjoy a stable income, but only for a limited time. This results in insecurity, frustration and stress: they cannot plan for the future.

On the other hand, the artists feel that copyright revenue is important. It gives hope for the future and the possibility of success. While small, it is compensation for completed work.


Uneasy union of art and money

While Finland recognises the importance of art at a governmental level, the survey reveals that its monetary value is not understood, and that making art is not thought of as a full-time job. There are many art museums, galleries and an extensive music education network, while art studies budgets are being slashed at universities.  According to Vehka Hakonen, the idea of art for art’s sake is also firmly held by the artists themselves:

“The artists feel that market forces should not be allowed to define the value of art. Meanwhile, this is essentially what copyright fees are all about.”

While Finland recognises the importance of art at a governmental level, the survey reveals that its monetary value is not understood, and that making art is not thought of as a full-time job.

Artists may not be aware of the value of their own work, and income insecurity may cause them to undercharge for their work. An artist may waive gallery fees out of fear of being rejected from an exhibition, or a musician may accept unreasonably low pay just to get a gig.

Some artists feel that salesmanship is part of being an artist in today’s world. They have to be able to network, brand and market themselves, to behave like entrepreneurs. Others find this kind of thinking depressing.

“But the copyright system is based on commercialising art. The revenue is created when the art is bought and sold, and demand guides the markets,” Vehka Hakonen points out.


The starving artist myth

The December seminar of the copyright project focused on how being an artist could become a more financially sustainable profession.

“Many improvements could be made to the overall social security of artists."

“Many improvements could be made to the overall social security of artists. For example, pension security or considering the artist as something other than an entrepreneur could help,” states Hakonen.

It would also be good to collect all artists regardless of field under a single organisation which could protect their interests and connect artists to make it easier to have their voices heard.

If artists are not sufficiently supported, will they stop making art?

“They will not,” believes Hakonen.

This is even though 90% of the artists who responded to the survey recognise the financial problems relating to their profession. Art is a way to comment on one’s environment, a source of experiences and realisations, a tool for processing emotions. Artists don’t create art for the money, but because they feel a strong need to do it. However, moving away from the idea of art as a calling can help people think of it as a real job.

Research project emphasises artists’ rights and status

Funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation and the Academy of Finland, the Art, Copyright and Transformation of Authorship research project (2016–2019) studies the position of the author and the authors’ rights in today’s art world from a multidisciplinary perspective.

The project has been carried out at the University of Helsinki’s Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, and its principal investigator, DPhil Sanna Nyqvist is an Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher (2015–2018) at the University of Helsinki’s discipline of comparative literature.

The principal investigator of the sub-project in which Vehka Hakonen also participates is Pauli Rautiainen, professor of constitutional law at the University of Eastern Finland.

The sub-project focusing on the current copyright system investigates the livelihoods of artists and their experiences of the copyright system. The results from the sub-project were discussed in a seminar at the beginning of December.