Sometime back, Martha Zlatar, art business consultant and founder of ArtMatch, offered 10 sure-fire tips for those interested in pursuing the romantic lifestyle of the starving artist.
- Don’t set goals.
- Never ever think about money.
- Keep your artwork to yourself — don’t show it, don’t talk about it.
- Don’t tell anybody you’re an artist.
- Spend all of your time in your studio. Don’t bother marketing — let your art stack up.
- If people are bugging you to buy your artwork say it’s not for sale — it’s not priced — that will deter them.
- Go at it alone — don’t get any help.
- Stay away from artists earning money.
- Expect instant success.
- Wait to be discovered.
Not Much of a Goal
It’s not much of a goal to be a starving artist when you think about. Anybody can do it. So if that’s the extent of your ambition, go for it.
As I wrote in my post, “12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free — and Why They’re Bogus,” I don’t believe in romanticizing the lifestyle of the starving artist. It may seem nice when you’re sipping a chai tea latte with your beret in the local java house listening to slam poetry, but other than that, it’s mostly a good way to remain starving.
There is no honor in starving yourself, unless you’re Gandhi. There is no other profession where the term “starving” has a pleasant connotation. Try “starving accountant,” “starving mechanic,” or even “starving teacher.”
If you hear a teacher doesn’t have enough to eat, you don’t react with a wry smile; you bemoan a society that doesn’t adequately value those who are educating our children.
Top Ramen Forever?
When I started out, I didn’t have much money. I ate so much Top Ramen, I began figuring out ways to make it taste better — my own recipes. I had cupboards full of it, when I could buy it at 10 for $1.
I didn’t live off ramen noodles because it was whimsical, charming or adventurous; I did it because I had no choice.
I didn’t live off ramen because I had decided to try to live off $50 assignments, either. I knew that to make a decent living, I needed to land assignments for $125 an hour with a four-hour minimum.
At first, I could only find a few clients at these rates — hence the ramen. But at least I was properly valuing my work.
And when I did the math, it made a lot more sense to do three assignments for a total of $1,500 in a given month, rather than three for $150 (or 30 for $1,500) — even if I had to spend more time marketing myself to land the higher paying jobs.
Settling for low-paying and no-paying gigs doesn’t make you more of an artist — it just makes you hungry.
A Life of Self-Expression
There’s a book, The Starving Artist’s Way, that promotes the starving artist lifestyle as something to aspire to. The author is described as “a child of Starving Artists [who] grew up in the SoHo section of Manhattan when it was still an epicenter of bohemian life.”
Today, of course, living in SoHo costs an arm and a leg. There may still be artists there — but they certainly aren’t starving.
As for the “bohemian” lifestyle, I would argue that you don’t have to be starving to live it. Wikipedia defines it as a lifestyle “where self-expression is the highest value [and] art is a serious and main focus of … life. ”
So, here’s my question to you: Would you rather have a career focused on self-expression for a few months or years – or a few decades?
Sustaining Yourself — and Your Art
As a starving artist, you’re always in a precarious position, financially and otherwise. You do yourself (and maybe even the world) a disservice if you end up, say, getting evicted and having to find a job — any job — to get by.
Most people who start out with the “goal” of being a starving artist end up in a cubicle farm somewhere bitching about their fate.
Those who endure know that they must build a career that sustains them physically and financially as well as artistically.
Ansel Adams is a great example of an artist who funded his most famous works by building a strong business — charging as much as the market would bear for his commercial work.
As a result, his career endured, and his art lives on today.
That sounds a lot better than a life of Top Ramen.