The starving artist: one who sacrifices a comfortable lifestyle to invest their limited resources towards their art.

This could be anyone: visual artists, literary artists, musicians, actors. People who trade material comfort for a life devoted to their art.

This idea has got me thinking: How many artists or potential artists are out there who simply don’t create? Because they can’t. Because life with its stresses and burdens, has deprived them of the ability to design and shape art.

Or maybe life just deprived them of the incentive. I think there are plenty of people who have the talent, but have lost the motivation to share it.

On the flip side, how many people are out there who cannot fathom giving up their art? Though by pursuing it, they may be signing off on a life of minimal income and minimal luxury, they cannot give it up.

The idea of the “starving artist” dates back to the mid-19th century, when Henri Murger wrote a book titled: “Scenes de La Vie de Boheme” that discussed the lives of a group of French artists he lived among. Bohemians and their artistry became famous—people wanted to dress like them and behave like them. In many ways, the life of an artist is still romanticized. But it isn’t necessarily respected. 

Last year in one of my seminars, one of our discussions led people to admit why they were studying their respective major. I remember one student bluntly admitted he was studying business simply because he had no other choice. “My mom said it’s this, or I’m coming home and U of M is no longer in the picture.” I’m not entirely sure he has dreams of becoming an artist, and the life of business has led him astray. However, I do think there is something he loves more than what he is setting himself up to do for the remainder of his life. And for that, I think this problem is a relevant one.

The notion of the starving artist highlights the divide between a life of limitations and a life of practicality. We are all set on this career-oriented way of thinking that drives us to see an appeal — and maybe even develop an obsession — toward a life with security and purpose. As a result, we are left with this thought: art can’t get us there. Or at least, the chances of “making it” are low.

For those who choose to dismiss these worries and follow their art, they often face judgment, which results in two very different reactions. They either 1) reevaluate their art or 2) are even more encouraged to pursue it, after seeing others’ doubt. Many become really fired up when someone questions something they love. Others take it as an indication that a life of security awaits them elsewhere and the best choice is to go find it.

Of course, there are artists who make it big. They are successful. They are admirable. They are the musicians who sell millions of albums, but admit their music started in their bedroom with an old guitar. Or the New York Times Bestsellers, who heard “NO” from so many publishers, until that one, wonderful “yes.”  For the artists who aren’t sure whether or not it’s worth going on, they look to those who made it and they think, “They did it and so can I.” There it is. The life of the starving artist can’t die out — too many have sustained their hope because of these examples.

So, do the people who show us the ideal product of our art fuel us? Or are we hindered by the people who question it?

Starving artists are everywhere. But I’d say there is an incredibly greater number of people who have given up and succumbed to the pressures of society because someone convinced them that a life of stability is found elsewhere.

To you people out there who have lost the motivation to share your art — you should know that there are many of us in the world just starving to see it. 

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