A New Kind of Artist
I want to offer a very simple but challenging argument: Real artists don’t starve. Making a living off your creative talent has never been easier.
Today, with more opportunity than ever to share our work with the world, we need a different model for creative work. The myth of the “Starving Artist” has long since overstayed its welcome, and what we need now is a New Renaissance, a return to a model for art and business that doesn’t require creative workers to suffer and starve.
We all have creative gifts to share, and in that respect, we are all artists. The world needs your work—whether that’s an idea for a book, a vision for a startup, or a dream for your neighborhood— and you shouldn’t have to struggle to create it. What does it mean to be a “real artist”? It means you are spending your time doing the things that matter most to you. It means you don’t need someone else’s permission to create. It means you aren’t doing your work in secret, hoping someone may discover it someday. It means the world is taking your work seriously.
The goal here is not to get rich, but to build a life that makes creating your best work not only possible but practically inevitable. And so, I think we should exchange this idea of being a Starving Artist with a new term: Thriving Artist. If you don’t want your best work to die with you, you must train yourself to think and live differently than the ways you’ve been told artists behave. You must not starve; you have to thrive.
A Difficult Truth
The world may be slow to accept the new truth that real artists don’t starve. It’s difficult to change an entire society’s perspective overnight, but there is one mind you can change today, and that’s your own.
In the Renaissance, artists were not aristocrats as Michelangelo hoped to become. But he was committed to not only making a living but earning the respect of his peers. It was not easy, but in the end, he ended up changing the whole game for artists. How did he do this?
First, he mastered his mind-set. When many artists were opening shops to train apprentices, he resisted such temptations to conform. He knew that to make a name for himself, he would have to be different. And before he acted differently, he would have to think differently. So he befriended those in power so he didn’t have to beg for scraps.
Then he mastered the market, plugging into a web of influential relationships that included popes, kings, and patrons who helped his work thrive. Building this network ensured he’d never starve.
Finally, he mastered his money, earning ten times what an average artist made by charging what he was worth. He invested in land and property, which secured his position as an aristocrat. Only the wealthy owned property. But long after he had more than enough money, he kept creating, living twice as long as the average person and creating an unforgettable legacy. He made money to make more art.
“Few artists have achieved as much as Michelangelo,” wrote Bill Wallace, “few so completely embody the notion of artistic genius…More than any of his contemporaries, he significantly raised the stature of his profession, from craftsman to genius, from artisan to gentleman. He demanded respect from his patrons, and he earned prestige as an artist. The era of the superstar artist was dawning.”
The age of the Starving Artist is over. The era of the Thriving Artist is upon us. It’s time to let go of our assumptions about artists and embrace the New Renaissance. It’s time to believe creative work is worth its reward. It’s time to thrive.
The point is not to make a fortune or become famous, but to do the work. We are all looking for a way to share our gift with the world without worrying about making a living. That means more than getting paid once for our creations. It means building a life that allows us to keep doing the work.
To do this, we have to leave behind our notions that artists must suffer to create. The Picassos and Twyla Tharps of the world didn’t do this. They discarded the Myth of the Starving Artist, choosing instead to embrace a new paradigm. We must follow in their footsteps, embracing the importance of networks and relationships in creative work. We must seek patrons and join our scenes if we want to thrive. We must not only make art, but we must make money to make more art.
That is the point—to keep making things. The success is the means, and the end is not having to quit. You don’t have to be rich to do that, but you can’t starve. That’s not how your best work is going to be made.
Not long ago we embraced the story of the Starving Artist as fact, but today we have a better story: real artists don’t starve. Now we can join a growing group of creatives who are ushering in a new creative age. We can become Thriving Artists—not amateurs who dream of “making it” someday—but true professionals. Whether your craft is cabinet-making, painting, or business, the world needs your work.
But now you have a choice. You can go the way of the tired, frustrated artist who struggles to keep creating. Or you can embrace an important but challenging truth that just might set you free from such thinking. You don’t have to starve. You can thrive. The world is waiting for you to create your best work. Please don’t let us down.
Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville, Tenn., with his family. He is the author of the national best seller The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. His latest book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, is available now. To get more articles like this, check out his free newsletter. As a thank-you, he’ll send you a free excerpt of his best-selling book, The Art of Work, plus other fun things.