"The Starving Artist:" Questioning Our Relationships With Socially Accepted Stereotypes
Even when I was quite young, I wanted to be a writer. I'm talking when I was a kid of maybe eight or nine, here.
Whereas my parents thought that my desire to "tell stories" for a living when I grew up was "adorable" they were also quick to let me know that artists and writers could expect to end up paupers, and "we don't like that, in our family."
Fall leaves in the sun...
The Mythology of the Starving Artist
There are lots and lots of stories of artists, writers, musicians and creative geniuses who were eternally "starving, and their genius not appreciated until after they died.
The idea of "Starving Artists" has taken on almost myth-like connotations... supported by broad-based reinforcement of the stereotype by people in the artist's environment. Or musician. Or whatever.
Sometimes the perpetuation of the stereotype is subtle... even done in the guise of admiration.
"The greatest creative geniuses lived with nothing; they didn't have fancy stuff!" we exclaim as we rationalize the potential failure of our own creative dreams to turn into something.
Meanwhile, we pressure creative types to remain paupers by throwing around ostensible truisms like "Thinking about money when you're creating means you are selling out!"
Bird wearing a black suit...
Strange paradox, there: Even as we bestow accolades upon their genius, we take it away by asserting that aforesaid genius actually has no value.
I can attest to the strange feelings this brings, as both a writer and an artist.
In an additionally strange twist, some people even use their decisions to "pursue their artistic endeavors" as a societally acceptable way of stating that they are turning their back on consumption and consumerism.
Pretty rich, don't you think?
Staying Truthful to Yourself
I sometimes wonder if anyone authentically believes that people pursue a creative career because they want to live in poverty. I ask that question, sometimes,.mostly as result of having been in the art gallery business for many years.
Typically, the reply I get is something along the lines of "Well, when you put it THAT way..." followed by a rationalization...
One of my spiritual Teachers and mentors of many moons ago — who was never shy about the reality that "everyone has to eat" — once made a statement to the effect that you should not give away for free that which you have the most skill and talent at.
She fervently believed the whole idea that a spiritual or creative life had to be lived in poverty and austerity was bogus, and being perpetuated societal mythology more than anything; a mythology so powerful that even the artists themselves came to believe that they only "deserved" to get starvation in return for their expressions.
Ocean fog, Big Sur, California
I have thought about her words many times, over the years, and have come to see that it's a piece of false societal mythology almost as powerful as the idea that "great creative genius" somehow requires the person creating to be somehow tormented and angst-ridden in order to reach their full potential.
This, in spite of the fact that more and more modern studies show that "being tormented" is by no means a perquisite for great creativity.
More likely the "equation" goes something like "The artist is tormented and troubled, hence they can't cope with life, so their creative output can be had for dirt cheap."
Sound harsh? Try spending almost 20 years working with artists, and the self-proclaimed patrons of the arts... and really listening to what is being said, "between the lines."
Let's be real: A gifted painter with 25 years fine arts experience is no less "an expert in their field" than an attorney with 25 years experience with the law.
Perhaps it's time to re-examine what we value and what we claim to value!
Thanks for reading!
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Created at 190420 00:53 PST