The “Starving Artist” Meme

Artists seem to avoid entrepreneurship like it is the plague. Many artists think making art for money is “selling out,” or that money will somehow pollute their artistic integrity, or that great artists have to suffer in poverty in order to produce great works of art. Where did the “starving artist” meme get started? How did this “starving artist” meme develop such a cult following?

The “starving artist” meme is actually an excuse. It’s an excuse to fail. It’s an excuse for laziness. It’s an excuse for mediocre work. In some cases, it’s an excuse for drug abuse, and alcoholism.

If you’ve read “Freakonomics” by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, then you know that every industry, whether it be illegal drug cartels or beauty pageants, are built like pyramids: only a few dominate the market, while the masses make crumbs. The “starving artists” are those at the bottom who can’t seem to produce good work. The one’s who can’t “ship it,” as Seth Godin would say.

If you go to an art gallery that sells modern art, I don’t really get a picture that those artists are suffering. They are in the top part of the pyramid on a local level. Artists like Dale Chihuly are at the top of the pyramid on a global level.

Don’t fall for the “starving artist” meme. It’s a virus that will only pollute your self-confidence, self-will, and ultimately your success. It may even pollute your creativity

The only way to stop this meme is to treat it like a virus, and stop spreading it. Let’s spread the “successful artist” meme. Let’s spread the “entrepreneurial artist” meme. How about the “millionaire artist” meme? How about the “ingeniously multitalented filthy rich artist” meme? How about the “I became a millionaire by staying true to my artistic integrity and working my butt off” meme? I think you get the picture.

Artists need to become entrepreneurs in order to survive. They need to start thinking about how to monetize their work. You’re not in college anymore. Making money is not icky. Those artists you praise so much, DaVinci, Michelangelo, Raphael… guess what… they didn’t work for free. They were all commissioned for their works. So should you.

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ideavist