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Painting a misleading picture? Stats show artists in Az have higher incomes

Fine artists in Arizona on average make more money annually than artists in any other state, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But there may be more Impressionism than Realism to those figures.

BLS data shows that Arizona sculptors, painters and illustrators made an annual average salary of $95,600 in 2014, making it the highest paying state for that occupation, followed by New York at $75,940. The annual average salary for fine artists in the United States in 2014 was $51,120, according to BLS.

Arizona State University professor James White, who has created art for the past 50 years, said he thinks the reason Arizona artists came out on top has to do with the kind of people who reside in the state.

“There are a lot of people with disposable incomes in Scottsdale, and it’s the people with disposable income that collect art,” said White, a sculptor and neon artist.

However, the labor statistics only tell part of the story.

Although the federal stats tally just 110 artists across all of Arizona, there are many more painters, sculptors and other artists just in Tucson. The most recent Open Studio Tour, held in November, included more than 180 professional artists in the metro area.

The federal figure leaves out the majority of self-employed artists, one expert said.

Steve Wilcox, communications and research director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, said in an email that Arizona has many more artists than the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted under its definition of “fine artist.”

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Wilcox said the data fails to include art directors, writers, crafters, animators, designers, entertainers, dancers and musicians.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the relative standard error of their surveying at 25.7 percent. The smaller the percentage, the more precise the statistic, according to the bureau’s website.

Although experts may debate the reliability of the statistics, several fine artists who have traveled to Scottsdale for the Celebration of Fine Art said they find Arizona to be a profitable state.

Mark Goodson, 57, an artist from Huntsville, Utah, said he thinks the weather attracts people – and their money – to Arizona, resulting in more sales.

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Arizona has a lot of sunshine to offer,” he said.

Goodson is among the 100 artists selling their pieces at the annual event, which showcases pop-up studios of fine artists. The daily event began on Jan. 16 and runs through March 27.

Goodson, who has painted for 10 years, sells his pieces for $10,000 to $15,000. Larger paintings can take Goodson 175 hours to complete.

Goodson sells his pieces online, in his own studio in Utah and at events like the Celebration of Fine Art.

“In the short term, I can sell more paintings at an event like this than in my studio,” Goodson said.

Cary Henrie, 55, from Bountiful, Utah, also traveled to Phoenix to sell at the event. He said selling art requires more than just a creative mind.

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“You need to be both artistic and have a business mindset: That is the key to success,” Henrie said.

Henrie has made a living on his art alone since the first time he sold a painting at age 16.

“I’ve never had an employer. I’ve always been my own boss,” Henrie said. “I think that’s pretty unique.”

Henrie takes about a week to complete each piece, and he uses a multitude of media, including wood, plaster and canvas. He sells prints of his work starting at $50, and his original pieces are priced up to $10,000.

“This is my biggest show of the year for selling pieces,” Henrie said. “This place takes 20 percent of the profit, which is better than other festivals that can take up to 50 percent. There was a lot of advertising, so there is a good amount of people here.”

Scottsdale sculptor Gedion Nyanhongo, 48, who has showcased his work in countries around the world, said he believes winter visitors lead to the high salary of Arizona artists.

“The people run from the cold weather to the warm,” Nyanhongo said. “Wherever there is people, there is art.”

Using only hand tools, Nyanhongo creates sculptures from stone that take him up to three years to complete. His pieces sell for $25,000 to $54,000, with his most expensive commission selling at $125,000.

“I’ve been making art since I was age 9, when my father and I worked a gallery together in Zimbabwe,” Nyanhongo said.

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Chloe Nordquist/Cronkite News

Curt Mattson said he focuses on art that defines the relationship between humans and horses. He’s showing his work at the Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art.