Donnell Butler, Princeton University
In recent years, several researchers have written papers or chapters addressing the methodological problems involved in defining and identifying who is an artist (Frey and Pommerehne 1989: 146-49, Mitchell and Karttunen 1992, Wassall and Alper 1992, Karttunen 1998). Definitions of artists often entail definitions of art, or value judgments, such as the amount of effort that makes someone deserve the title of artist. What is art and who should be considered an artist? It seems reasonable to classify painters, sculptors, and photographers as artists. Do house painters, architects, or newspaper photographers qualify as artists? Many researchers have studied ballet dancers, musicians, and actors. These same studies have rarely defined their subject broadly enough to include topless dancers, lounge singers, and comedians. General studies of artists have often ignored art forms such as culinary artists (i.e., chefs and cooks), acrobats, or cartoonists. The point is this: There are many ways to define an artist. Moreover, how one defines an artist will invariably affect how one identifies the population from which a sample is drawn.
In contrast to defining the artist, identifying artists is less a philosophical issue than a technical challenge. The problem lies in the unknown size and boundaries of the population. Not all research on groups sharing an activity- based characteristic has this problem. For example, professional status in some occupations (e.g., doctors and lawyers) is defined by a certification process, which produces a known and bounded sampling frame. The ambiguous nature of artists as a population makes it difficult to identify a population of artists from which to draw a sample. In the last decade, innovative researchers have implemented a multitude of identification methods to obtain samples of artists that are generalizable to a larger population of artists.
The purpose of this introduction is to describe these varying identification methods and definitions. The directory that follows will describe specific studies that have used these approaches. The next section describes the advantages and disadvantages of the approaches that are commonly used to identify populations of artists.
Common Methods of Population Identification
Frey and Pommerehne (1989: 146-47) provide a concise review of ways to identify populations of artists. They enumerated eight methods, which they suggested should be employed based on data availability and research questions:
The investigators responsible for the studies described in this annotated directory used all of these approaches to identifying populations of artists except artistic quality, and added a ninth: presence in a directory of artists. Many studies use multiple methods to identify the population. For example a researcher using an art school alumni directory will employ a survey response (self-identification) as a screening device, in order to filter out art school alumni who have given up art for other fields. The rest of this section will discuss each of the six commonly used identification methods and their strengths and weaknesses. The methods are discussed in order of frequency, the parenthetical reference in each heading referring to the percentage of studies reviewed that used that particular identification method.*
Membership in a Professional Artist Group or Association (32 percent)
The most common method for identifying a population of artists is the use of membership lists obtained from professional artist groups or associations. The advantage of membership lists as a tool for identifying artists is that the data are easily obtainable at a low cost. Membership lists from large organizations are more likely than other methods to provide a significant numbers of artists, thus a better representation of the population as a whole.
The disadvantages of membership lists are that they can easily represent a distinctive population; members of a particular organization may not be comparable to members of another organization; and they exclude artists who do not belong to any artist group or association and who may be altogether different from those who are members of artist organizations. Researchers have to be aware of how associations grant membership, because this may affect the type of population identified, and therefore the study’s results.
The Amount of Paid Time Devoted to Artistic Work (24 percent )
This method encompasses collection of data from employed artists in theatre, dance, film, music, architecture, and related fields. Major federal data bases, including most occupational studies of the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, use this criterion. The advantage of identifying the artist based on paid employment is that it defines the artist in a consistent manner. Unfortunately, the advantage can also be disadvantageous because it may significantly narrow the definition of an artist. Many people consider themselves artists who would not pass an income or time criteria (for example, the actors waiting tables in New York). Because opportunities for employment are greater in some arts fields than in others, this biases such studies towards artists in disciplines with relatively low unemployment rates.
There are excellent advantages to federal databases: the costs have already been paid for by statistical agencies, population sizes are large enough to make a strong case for representation, and trend data are available. However, ongoing surveys by federal agencies often do not address specific arts-related issues such as working conditions and training. Finally, as noted previously, some researchers might find it constraining to identify artists solely based on time or income criteria.
Professional Qualifications (14 percent )
Frey and Pommerehne (Karttunen 1998) defined professional qualifications simply as graduation from an art school. Others have defined artist populations on the basis of such professional qualifications as having been published as a writer, or having exhibited materials as a visual artist. While broader than Frey and Pommerehne’s definition, these criteria better represent professional qualification for artistic endeavors not requiring specialized educational degrees. Information about professional qualifications can be obtained from survey responses, interviews with gallery owners, reference resources, and student-alumni lists from art schools.
The advantages of using art program and art school alumni lists is similar to that of membership lists: information on a significant numbers of artists can be obtained quickly and at low cost. The disadvantage is that this approach excludes artists who are self taught, learned through apprenticeship, or took arts courses at educational institutions other than specialized art schools.
Researchers on writers and visual artists often use indicators of professional success, such as published works and exhibitions. The advantage of this method is that, similar to identifying the artist based on paid employment, it provides an objective standard for inclusion. But specific criteria may be somewhat arbitrary. For example, does a published short story make one a writer or must one have published a book? If the latter, must the book have to be fiction or can non-fiction also count? And what exactly qualifies as an exhibition or showing? The researcher who chooses to use professional qualifications of this nature needs to have a clear definition of the artist lest his or her identified population entail a definition that is poorly suited to the study’s research question.
Reputation and Recognition (10.5 percent )
The reputation of an artist among the general public and/or recognition among other artists is often a tool used for identifying the hidden or weakly institutionalized groups of artists. The best example of this is Richard Lachman’s (1988) research on graffiti artists. Artists were located through recognition and reputation from a variety of sources: school teachers, gang leaders, graffiti art gallery proprietors, dealers, collectors, patrons, and fellow graffiti artists. The disadvantage of this method is that one could fail to obtain a representative sample due to the bias inherent in artists’ social networks. Moreover, a reputation criterion often leads to bias toward the most visible and esteemed artists within the networks from which data are secured.
Another way to use recognition as a criterion is to study award winners. The advantage of this method is that the definition of artist has already been ascertained by what the researcher may consider to be a more qualified judge. However, this population consists only of grant recipients or prize-winners. Such populations do not yield representative samples of the general population of artists, because they exclude the great bulk of artists who do not win prizes or awards.
Self-identification (10.5 percent )
Some studies use self-identification as a criterion for constructing a population of artists. The few studies reviewed in the annotated directory that use self-identification as the primary tool fail to produce a convincingly representative sample of the population to which they aspire to generalize. Nevertheless, self-identification is the model recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and a number of researchers. "Many cultural economists expressly support the standard of self-assessment to avoid elitism and any ‘official’ designation of the arts and artists" (Karttunen 1998: 7).
The disadvantage of self-identification as a tool for identifying a population is that at absolutely avoids any attempt to create a standard and explicit definition of an artist, in effect permitting each respondent to use his or her personal definition instead. I doubt that any research question can be confidently addressed with a sample of such unknown and unlimited boundaries.
Directories (9 percent )
Directories are compiled on the basis of a variety of criteria including group membership, employment, professional qualifications, reputation and recognition, and self-identification. Directories used by studies included in the annotated directory ranged from the telephone "yellow pages" to Who’s Who Among American Women. Because there is no one method for compiling a directory, directories may include large and relatively representative samples. However, as in the case of membership lists, researchers must understand how the directory was compiled.
The annotated directory that follows reveals that there are numerous methods for identifying and defining artists. In many cases, the definition of the artist appears to be more a product of the identification method than the other way around. It is difficult to know for sure, because many researchers fail to discuss conceptualization (as opposed to operationalization) of the subject. The only consistent pattern is that researchers continue to develop new methods. The choice of a definition or an identification method for artists appears to be based on data availability, the research question, and the study’s purpose. The best studies provide discussions indicating that they are conscious of how their chosen method may have influenced their results.
The lack of a common definition should not prevent researchers from studying the economic, working and social condition of artists. A common definition is not necessary as long as researchers remain aware (and inform the reader) of the identification method chosen, the definition of the artist being used, and the strengths, weaknesses and consequences of that choice. Readers who are interested in pursuing studies of artists are urged to read more detailed discussions on these issues (Karttunen 1998, Mitchell and Karttunen 1992, Wassall and Alper 1992, and Frey and Pommerehne 1989).
The process for compiling the initial list of studies of artists began with a keyword search of Econlit, PsychInfo, the Social Science Citation Index, and Sociological Abstracts.11 The list was supplemented by publications produced in association with the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). These publications were found through Internet pages published by the NEA and the Educational Resources Information Center. A narrower version of the previous keyword search was used on a number of Internet Search Engines, which resulted in only a few useful studies. Most of the studies found using this method resulted in unscientific net polls lacking methodological information or any serious effort to access the generalizability of the non-random samples. Bibliographies of available publications were also reviewed to find other studies.2 Finally, key informants provided guidance and their own personal reference lists. The final list was reduced to include only studies that attempted to generalize a sample to a larger population of artists.
This directory documents as carefully as possible (given the sources available to the compiler) how the researcher in each instance has defined the artist and identified the population. Studies are arranged by type of artist population and, within each category, by study date. Each entry indicates, in so far as possible from available materials, the study investigator, the artist population, the way in which artists were identified, sampling procedures, number of respondents and response rates, and publications based on the study. This directory should provide researchers and other interested parties with a range of definitions, identification methods, and sampling procedures currently used in studies of artists. Interested parties are encouraged to submit any studies that could be added to the list, provide any missing information, correct any errors, and offer any suggestions for further updates. At the very least, I hope this directory will be a useful reference for researchers interested in undertaking their own studies of artists.
1 The following keywords were searched with a special request made for derivatives or extensions of the words: artist, musician, composer, playwright, composer, poet, novelist, dancer, painter, sculptor, culinary, chef, photographer, architect, actor, actress, and director.
2 Paul DiMaggio, Research Coordinator Princeton Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies; Joan Jeffri, Director of Columbia University's Research Center for Arts and Culture; and Tom Bradshaw, Director of the Research Division of the National Endowment for the Arts.