As a creative, you have most likely experienced in one way or another the stereotype of the “starving artist.” This is the idea that in order to create art, you must suffer for it in one way or another– whether it be financial suffering, emotional suffering, or even physical suffering. However, this idea of the starving artist is more than just a myth with little validity to back it– it’s a harmful stereotype that is being perpetuated in order to consumers to exploit artists for their artwork and their suffering.
The Starving Artist Myth and Financial Exploitation
By implying that by being an artist you have chosen a life of financial strain, the starving artist myth actually allows larger companies and organizations to exploit your art by either underpaying for your work or simply not paying at all, insisting that the compensation will be through the publicity you, as an artist, will receive. There is this notion, especially among larger corporations, that since artists struggle so much to find employment opportunities, that they will jump at any opportunity they receive, even if it is severely underpaid or not paid at all.
However, as we reach a more entrepreneurial age for artists, it actually presents an important opportunity for artists to price and sell their work on their own terms. Now, more than ever, there is a wealth of job opportunities for artists– you just have to make the jobs for yourself now. By adopting an entrepreneurial spirit to your artwork, you will no longer have to rely on the companies that refuse to pay you for your work and instead establish your own career. As we reach an age where artists can reclaim agency over their own career and put an end to the financial aspect of the starving artist myth.
You Do Not Have to Suffer for Your Art
Another implication of the starving artist myth is the physical and emotional misery an artist must endure to produce meaningful work. As creatives already possess a tendency to suffer from mental illness or substance abuse issues, this aspect of the starving artist myth is severely dangerous to perpetuate. On one hand, it encourages artists to neglect their mental health in favor of their art, and insinuates that as an artist, you cannot both make art and take care of your mental health. Even further, it romanticizes substance abuse: since substance abuse is encompassed in the traditional image of a “suffering artist,” it is an encouraged element of the artistic lifestyle.
Though this connotation is glaringly problematic, it is still omnipresent in our current creative culture. Just the other month, we lost Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two creatives, to suicide. In her recent stand up special, Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby tackles this harmful misconception about creative suffering. She defend the use of antidepressants, and when countered by an audience member after the show who claimed that if Van Gogh had been medicated we wouldn’t have the sunflowers, she responded that he was in fact medicated for his epilepsy. And this medication actually enhanced the vividness of the color yellow, and may have been the precise reason we got the sunflowers. And this anecdote just goes to show yet another example of the vast distortion of what our idea of what an artist should be.
Self Care Actually Enhances Creativity
Contrary to the stereotypical portrait of an artist’s lifestyle, taking care of your mind and your body actually increases creativity, and are ultimately the actions that will lead to a more fulfilling creative life. Studies have shown that adhering to a healthy diet and incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet can enhance your creativity. Further, taking a moment to clear your mind through meditation can also improve your artistry. When you’re stuck in a creative block, gravitating towards more healthy coping mechanisms can solve the block more so than destructive tendencies. Especially in times of extreme stress, self-care is more important than ever. Though taking time out of your already busy schedule to practice self-care may seem impossible and counterintuitive, it actually pays off in the long run. So while popular belief may dictate the notion of how an artist should lead their life, science backs a much different– and healthier– alternative.