Why I’m Dispelling The Myth Of The Poor Struggling Artist

by | Jul 2, 2016 | Make Money From Your Art, Start With Why | 0 comments

Why I’m Dispelling The Myth Of The ‘Poor Struggling Artist’

The reason why I started this blog was to begin to help dispel the myth of the ‘poor struggling’ artsist/designer/maker.

I believe that I can help educate artists/designers/makers with advice and tips on how you can make money from your ‘art’ and ‘creative talents’ without feeling that you’ve ‘sold out’ or ‘devalued’ your work in any way. I believe we are entitled to exchange money for our skill base.

However I believe that many artists/designers/makers will need to have a big change in mindset to actually make this happen.

A few months ago, before I launched this blog, my ‘work husband’ and I were having a chat. (Yes I have an ‘actual’ husband, Ian, who is an ex-architect music blogger and two ‘work husbands’ – Eddie, a goldsmith and Stuart, a silversmith – all artists!! And yes we regularly discuss life, love, art and the universe!!) Eddie and I were talking about the ‘myth’ of the poor struggling artist – where did it come from? Why do we think it is even ‘acceptable’ for an artist to be ‘poor’.

So being a ‘researcher’ I went away and investigated. First stop ‘The Google’ and Wikipedia’s definition of the ‘Starving Artist’

A starving artist is an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects. Related terms include starving actor and starving musician.

Some starving artists desire mainstream success but have difficulty due to high barriers to entry in fields such as the visual arts, the film industry, and theatre. These artists frequently take temporary positions such as waitering or other service industry jobs while they focus their attention on “breaking through” in their preferred field. The Starving Artists Project describes these artists as those who have not yet broken into their careers.

Other artists may find enough satisfaction in living as artists to choose voluntary poverty regardless of their prospects for future financial reward or broad recognition. Virginia Nicholson writes in Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900–1939.

According to Wikipedia’s definition, a ‘starving artist’ is a any artist, actor or musician who makes the choice to ‘sacrifice’ their ‘material well-being’ and who puts the focus of their art first over every other area of their life. Likewise it mentions that a ‘starving artist’ hasn’t ‘made it’ yet within their field and hence hasn’t made any financial gain which is why they are poor and starving. It alludes that you might also choose to be ‘poor’ in order to live the life of an artist!

So again this ‘myth’ that’s it’s ‘acceptable’ to be poor or to live in poverty because, hey, that’s ok – you’re an artist. But where did this thought come from?

It would seem there’s some mention on this myth being instigated by the writer Henri Murger who wrote a book in the 1840’s entitled, Scenes of the Bohemian Life, about artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Murgers stories are said to romanticise the ‘Bohemian’ lifestyle of artists living in Paris at the time and he writes about actual characters and individuals. However in ‘true’ ‘starving artist’ style, Murgers stories didn’t make him much money initially as they didn’t reach a big enough audience. This is said to change in 1849, when Murger co-wrote a play with Théodore Barrière. The play, entitled La Vie de la bohème, was based on Murger’s stories and is said to have been ‘successfully’ staged at the Théâtre des Variétés.

It later went on to inspire the opera, La Boheme, by Giaccomo Puccini which hit the popularity scenes in 1896 and is today regarded to be one of the most popular operas worldwide.

Fast forward to modern times, and parts of the plots from the fabulous 2001 Baz Luhrmann movie musical, Moulin Rouge, were based upon the original Murger stories.

So now we have the ‘myth’ that to be really ‘cool’ as an artist you have to be poor, starving and ‘bohemian’. Again I turned to Google and Wikipedia’s explanation of ‘Bohemianism‘…

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.

This use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities.

This made me laugh, as my definition of the ‘poor struggling bohemian artist’ is now becoming any artist, actor, musician, writer, journalist, wanderer, adventurer or vagabond living in any major European city (because to begin with you could only be ‘bohemian’ if you lived in Europe). We choose to live unconventionally, have no ties, roots or responsibilities and we are marginalised and impoverished…but, hey it’s ok, we are all connected through our common goal, passion and love…our ART!!!

So basically the notion of our modern life as artists is based on a ‘traditional’ thought process and a romantic one for that matter. How cool to be bohemian and poor but to live totally submersed in our art with other like-minded souls. This is a mindset that we have been fed as ‘acceptable’ for over 170 years ago.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Living the ‘poor struggling artist life’ is actually based on a 170 year old idea which is now considered to be normal, it’s ‘the norm’ and hence its now the ‘conventional’ path for us artists to take…not very bohemian then, as the true meaning of being bohemian is to live unconventionally!!!

I don’t think it’s ok just to give up trying to feed myself and my family just because I’m an artist. It would be like one of the kids saying ‘I’m not going to go to school ever again because hey you know I’m going to sit and draw all day long and well sure it’s ok, I’m an artist!’ Whilst I have my own major issues with the school curriculum, the kids still need some form of basic structure to be with other kids and to learn some basic life skills. Likewise you might think it would be fabulous to spend every second of your life making ‘art’, BUT, as humans we all need to live every day basic life…this includes breathing, getting up in the morning, sleeping, eating, getting dressed, going to school, going to ‘work’, making your work, looking after children, falling in love, living – you know life work balance stuff…AND some of these everyday activities require money.

Now I’m not saying you have to feel like you have to ‘prostitute’ yourself or your work, hell no! I’m talking about finding a balance – choose a way in which you make you’re ‘art’ whilst earning enough money to live the life you want and to be happy. Why not think about how part of your art practice can bring in money so you can live and love life for that matter. Think about doing what you love and make money at the same time.

Why not turn this conventional thought on its head, flip it around – let’s be bohemian artists AND get paid for the talents we have and for making the world a beautiful place!

Change your mindset, make art, make love, live life, love life…and make some money!

#dispelthemyth #dontbeapoorstrugglingartist #makemoney #changeyourmindset #mentortip

So I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below & if you liked this post then please share it with a friend and spread the love!

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