Architects: Why are they in the NEA Jobs Report?
They’re skewing the data. They make the most ($63,111 median income); they are the highest educated (88.5% of architects have Bachelor’s degrees or higher) and 70% actually majored in their discipline; they’re the most likely to be foreign-born; 75% are men (and are paid on average $12,000 more per year than the women in their field).
And I don’t think they’re necessarily artists.
Alright, alright, I take that back. Let me put it this way: they’re not just artists.
There’s more to architecture than what—literally—meets the eye. Of course, mating great design with practicality is an architect’s goal, but last time I checked, I didn’t have to concern myself with public safety or meeting codes when I created that painting or wrote that song.
I am of the opinion that the primary goal of architecture is not purely in the design, but in the usability of the space (with the best architects being those who can successfully balance aesthetics with pragmatics). The most “haute” of architecture (think David Fisher’s forthcoming rotating skyscraper) still must be able to be inhabited. If a building can't be, it's a sculpture. It's an interesting fine line.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the very same resources used to compile this NEA research note, art and design are not the most important aspects of the job:
Architects create the overall look of buildings and other structures, but the design of a building involves far more than its appearance. Buildings also must be functional, safe, and economical and must suit the needs of the people who use them…In developing designs, architects follow building codes, zoning laws, fire regulations, and other ordinances, such as those requiring easy access by people who are disabled.
Architects working in the U.S. must be licensed. There are no other professions listed in the report for which a person must be licensed (correct me if I’m wrong!). In gaining licensure, the architect must pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). This exam “concentrates on the professional services that affect the public health, safety, and welfare” and candidates are not tested on the aesthetics of their design, but on its functionality and the architect’s ability to translate their design to working blueprints.
It would be like me getting licensed to be a music composer, and instead of being tested on my music itself, I was tested on my ability to create the sheet music for it.
Architects are also skewing the data in regards to artists with undergraduate degrees (Table 3 in the report). Every major field of study represented in the table earns a Bachelor of Arts degree, except for architects, who earn a Bachelor of Architecture. This is not a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture; this is a specified degree program that recognizes there are more components to the architect’s education than design studies.
Right now it looks like artists actually make $3,950 more per year than the average U.S. worker. This does nothing for those of us that are advocating for more government support for the arts. It, in fact, hurts our case! Take off the architects, and the average artist’s yearly income will come much closer to the national average.
(Please don't get me wrong. I love architecture! Maybe what's really bothering me is the way artists are categorized in this research. Where are the teachers? The stagehands? Are web designers counted?
Another factor not discussed is the massive salary gap between artists who are just starting their careers and artists who have achieved celebrity, as well as between artists working for nonprofits and those working commercially. There are also surprises in some of the metropolitan areas profiled. I may write another blog to address these issues!)