Federal tax court rules in favor of artists

A ruling handed down by the United States Tax Court may prove to be an important victory for artists, specifically artists who don’t make that much money from their work.

In a case very similar to that of local artist Venus De Mars, New York painter and printmaker Susan Crile was obliged to prove that her more than 40 year career as a painter was indeed a profession. If she failed to do so, she would owe the IRS more than $80,ooo for inappropriate deductions.

Crile’s paintings are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and several other major institutions, but her earnings for her work average less than $16,000 per year.

The New York Times reports that Judge Albert G. Lauber ruled in favor of Crile, deeming she had an honest objective of making a profit, and should be considered a professional artist.

Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art, who testified on Ms. Crile’s behalf, said Monday that the ability to deduct art-related expenses — in art careers that might generate little money — was “one of the last remaining areas where the federal government cuts artists any slack to allow them to do what they do,” and that its protection was crucial.

Micaela McMurrough, a lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore who represented Ms. Crile, said one of the key points argued in the case was that “art is not a business like other businesses.” “And I think that’s what this decision reflects, to a large extent,” she said.

The ruling sets a heartening precedent for artists whose work may be compelling, but is not easily marketable to the general public.