Never Mind the Starving Artist Stereotype

What We See vs. How It Is

Not so fast!

I try not to have hatred in my heart, I really do but I absolutely detest the starving artist stereotype. I get right cross when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them confidently that I’m an artist, and they snicker and jeer or flat out ask something asinine like, “So, you’re a starving artist?” or “Did you ever think that being a professional artist would be hard?”

I know that I can’t change some people’s narrow perceptions of artists. It’s a cynical world. Just because I can’t fix them; however, doesn’t mean that I have to like them or not let myself feel any particular way about them. Try this on. My own particular viewpoint about people who think that way will certainly not make me popular but I truly do think of people who have such perceptions about all or most artists as not much more than knuckle draggers.

That’s how it is sometimes in this cynical world. They debase me; I debase them back. Strangely, that’s fair! Do they not want me to think lowly of them? Then, all they have to do is either open up their minds and pay artists and the art fields some genuine respect or just keep their mouths shut.

Can it get any worse? Sure it can. There really are some people who live a semblance of the starving artist’s life. I’m not talking about those in impoverished countries either who have a legitimate excuse. I’m referring to those who have been raised and educated in first world countries but complain about how others don’t see their vision when their vision is producing something meager or odd, not trying to market their work honestly, and spending all or most of the money that they may actually make on getting polluted. Now, these people really offend me more than the whats-it-whats-its who dare assume that I’m in the same boat. They perpetuate the stereotype.

Facts: I never once had some pie in the sky notion that it would be easy to become a professional visual artist, and sustain such a career. Like all wholesome professions it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to be an independent commercial artist. Because commercial art is in fact the world’s largest industry, it’s only a minority who don’t have to jump through hoops in this bizz. I jump through them because I fully researched my field, recognized the challenges and have always believed in the effort as much as I laud the potential outcome.

Facts: there was a time in my life that I fell on hard times but that was strictly because of the economy and the lack of opportunities that were available to me at that time; I’ll shed more light on that someday, it was not because of my pursuing art. I have never forgone financial security and material necessities or want in order to pursue art, that’s what a starving artist does. I’ve never subsisted on minimum expenses, either because art sales have been slow or because everything that I make went toward my art productions. Those are what a starving artist does.

Facts: in all my years of being an independent professional visual artist I have also worked a fulltime job that really has nothing to do with the arts but does help me and my wife to live healthy, modern, westernized lives. It’s nothing new. Not every visual artist gets to fill a permanent position in an art firm, gallery or art department within a firm. When there are only one or two openings in the visual arts fields, there are typically dozens to thousands of applicants. This means that most dedicated artists have to go it alone, and; therefore, most independent artists in the western world have to supplement their incomes because art is seldom a 9-to-5 job. Most artists are realistic, pragmatic thinkers. That’s why city sidewalks really aren’t overrun by hundreds of starving artists, despite what the whats-it-whats-its think.

Here’s what I take great pride in; being an entrepreneurial artist. I’ll never be sitting around grumbling about how life sucks after forty. I’ll never gripe as some old fart, that I should have stuck to my guns and pursued my greatest dreams when I had the chance. That’s because I’ve always been doing it, and doing it realistically. I know for a fact that there are many critics who cannot say the same.


6 thoughts on “Never Mind the Starving Artist Stereotype

  1. Thanks for the enlightment. I smell such strong confidence with your words. Forgive me for I have the same notion here and there. Then again, I see there are still a bunch of artists that still pursuing that career path and passion in life. So, it minimizes my curiousity. There are a lot of artists here in California, as in so so many. It is here that I know that art in modern world is not dead at all and has not overruled by modern technology.
    Very well put! Great photographies, interesting reads, awesome blog!

  2. Whoa. OK. Deep breath.
    I don’t know you other than what I’ve seen and read here and I’m no expert – far from it, but I know what I like and I think your art is amazing. That you’re successful is a testimony to your talent and tenacity. You work at living your dream and are reaping the rewards. Be proud, be happy, be true to yourself, and hell with the twits and buffoons.
    Just sayin’

    • Thank you so much. Sorry if I sounded too . . .


      Seriously though, I’ve always been quite passionate about the arts and artists; not just myself. A lot of visual and even performance artists are faced with this narrowmindedness. I’ve even seen it be a pivotal reason why many even give up their God-given talent of playing guitar, painting landscapes, performing jazz dances, etcetera in order to pursue a field that’s presumed to be practicable. I even met a college engineering student from Zimbabwe that struggled with this very issue (his father was a lawyer in Harare who demanded that his son be more responsible).

      I liken the ignorance and take-for-granted atitude to the old adage; “Everyone hates lawyers, ’til they need one”. Semi-respectfully or totally sarcastically people will say, “Oh look, he paints pictures,” or “Ah, she takes wonderful pictures, isn’t that lovely and nice!” That is, until they need someone like us to design a brochure, restaurant menu, invoice template or photographic print for them.

      • That’s why you can’t sweat it (too much). I am so not trying to minimize you situation, but you are not going to change ‘them’. Do what you do. Love it and contribute to those who appreciate. I WISH I had your talent. I WISH I could do what you do and if I could I’d be ecstatic that I had the ability, the talent, to express myself that way. You are so fortunate. Again I say, hell with them!
        You did not sound too arrrrgggghhh!
        I’m done preachin’ 🙂

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