Chair of the Australian Council, Rupert Myer, at the Canberra Glassworks on Monday.

Australian Council chairman Rupert Myer at the Canberra Glassworks. Photo: Jay Cronan

Cursed with being brilliant but poor, long-suffering until after their deaths when their work could be fought over and sold for millions has been the fate of many famous artists for centuries.

However, the chairman of the Commonwealth's arts funding body has said it's time to cast off the notion of the ''starving artist''.

On the 40th anniversary of the Australia Council for the Arts, chairman Rupert Myer has said the time has come for artists to be paid properly for their work.

The Australia Council issues grants valued at more than $170 million a year to artists and organisations in every state and territory in the areas of music, literature, theatre, visual arts and dance.

The council's funding decisions are made at arm's length from government by peer review.

''We want to raise the profile of the artist in the community,'' Mr Myer said when visiting the Canberra Glassworks yesterday.

''It would be great to see more artists being able to live off their art and to be recognised for the quality of their work and have their art marketed internationally and our dramatic artists be selected for productions not just here but internationally as well.

''Part of achieving that is raising the profile of the artist and while it's not a government role to provide that [better income] it is a government role to enable and facilitate policy where creativity can occur and those sort of outcomes can be achieved.

''I don't think it's too lofty an ambition, I think it's realistic to think we could raise the profile of the artist in the community.''

The Australia Council marked its anniversary last night with a function at the National Gallery of Australia with guests from government, members of the diplomatic community and Canberra artists.

Mr Myer said artists often gave their time for free but their efforts should never be taken for granted. ''There is a huge element of volunteering across the arts,'' he said.

''Artists are extremely generous with their time and talent but what the world wants is content, content, content across all art forms and it's not reasonable to think that artists should remain unremunerated for the expertise that they bring to different projects.

''I think in every sector volunteering is a characteristic, so it's not to wish away the culture of volunteering but nevertheless it would be good to see artists be able to live on their work.

''That's one of the key messages of our 40th anniversary.''

The council has laid claim to helping such famous names as Cate Blanchett, Judy Davis, David Gulpilil, Geoffrey Rush and recent Grammy winner Gotye get ahead during their early career.

''Many of the artists supported by the Council in the last 40 years have gone on to become celebrated household names,'' Mr Myer said. ''This includes dancers and choreographers such as Meryl Tankard and David McAllister; writers Peter Carey, Les Murray and Tim Winton.

''Last year, more than 13 million people in Australia and beyond our shores enjoyed art created and presented with the support of the Australia Council.''