Scrapping The Starving Artist Mythology
“I love breaking the myth of the starving artist. That is such a lie that people tell artists from the day they are born, and it’s so sad that so many artists psych themselves out with this myth.”
Musician Magdalen Hsu-Li continues, “There is always a way to make a great living from music or any art form if you are willing to use your creativity to the business aspect.
“People think that creativity should only be in art and the business should be in business. But the most successful business people use their intuition and creativity to problem solve and figure out how to make things work.”
[From MusicDish interview by Steven Digman.]
She founded her own company ChickPop Records. The photo is from her album Fire.
This notion of the starving artist can affect us in many ways, even providing a “reason” why someone will not invest any time of energy into pursuing a creative interest because “only big stars make money” or another self-limiting belief like that.
In his post in his post Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking, Michael Michalko writes about a number of attitudes and viewpoints that can affect how we engage in creative thinking and creative expression.
One of his comments: “The artist is not a special person… Every one of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don’t.”
Michael Michalko is the author of a number of books including Creative Thinkering: Putting your Imagination to Work.
But it goes beyond just believing you are creative – or not.
For example, how much do you compare your creative ambitions to the renowned accomplishments of name brand artists? If you like composing, do you disparage your level and quality of music writing if it isn’t at the level of a Mozart or a Leonard Cohen? Do you categorize yourself or other creative people in an either-or way: either wildly successful, or unsuccessful?
In her post “Starving Artist, Meet Web 2.0,” Emilie Wapnick writes about a “very talented guitarist” who was feeling very discouraged about his hunt for a job: “At this point, I’m willing to take any job that I don’t completely hate and I’ll just play music on the side.”
Wapnick comments: “All you want is to make art, and instead here you are running around, trying to get the corporate world’s attention, tweaking résumés, shouting ‘pick me! pick me!’ to faceless corporations who see you as nothing more than an interchangeable cog in the machine. That sense of powerlessness is enough to make anyone feel bitter and worthless. And has the life of an artist not always been marked by the romantic notion of struggle, famine, and hardship?”
But, she continues, “Okay look, I don’t mean to be harsh, but Starving Artist, would you please get with the times?! You may have had to ‘sell out or starve’ in the past, but a lot has changed in recent years. For example:
“No more are the days when you must carry around slides of your paintings from gallery to gallery in order to get a public viewing.
“No more must you send your manuscript from publisher to publisher in order to get your novel into the hands of the public.
“No more do record labels decide which music gets heard and which doesn’t.
“The gatekeepers have toppled over, and guess what? You no longer need anyone’s permission to ‘make it.’
“Thanks to widespread access to the internet and new, affordable technology, the power that these exclusive gatekeepers once had – that is, the power of distribution – is now yours.”
Emilie Wapnick is author of the program Renaissance Business – make your multipotentiality your day job.
Of course, being an artist entrepreneur requires changes in attitudes, and adding or refining work priorities and activities.
If you create a painting, you may not be in the position of having a gallery waiting to buy it and market it for you.
You may need to be creative about other ways to market your work, and even develop other products to express your creative ideas and knowledge.
In her article “Combine multiple talents to become a successful artist,” Andrea Kay addresses possible attitudes about being creative.
“So you want to make music, act, produce films, design fashion, dance or write movies?,” she writes.
“No sweat. That is, if you tweak your thinking a bit. That includes eliminating the term ‘starving artist’ from your vocabulary.
“For one thing, if you think that’s what you’re getting into when you pursue a creative career, well, that’s what you’ll get. Just as predictable is the possibility for success if you can envision a wider path…”
From my post Marketing Yourself And Your Creative Work: Don’t They Deserve a Wider Audience? – which has references to more articles and programs about being an entrepreneur and making money from your creative work.
Also see a related post: Creativity and Commerce.
Pumpkin carver photo from article Want to Work for Yourself? Those Dream Jobs Don’t Just Happen, They’re Created, by Valerie Young.
Multiple Forms of Expression
One example of a creative polymath or “multipotentialite” (Emilie Wapnick’s term) is Viggo Mortensen – an actor, writer, musician, poet, photographer and painter.
He has commented, “Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating.”
From my post Viggo Mortensen: “Why just one thing?”
[Photo: Street Painter, by pedrosimoes7 – from my post Artists are Crazy; Mothers Can’t Be Artists, and Other Myths.]
A final quote:
“But starvation, unfortunately, didn’t improve art. It only hindered it. A man’s soul was rooted in his stomach. A man could write much better after eating a porterhouse steak and drinking a pint of whiskey than he could ever write after eating a nickel candy bar. The myth of the starving artist was a hoax.”
– Charles Bukowski, Factotum (1975)
Eby, D. (2012). Scrapping The Starving Artist Mythology. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2012/01/scrapping-the-starving-artist-mythology/