How many times have you and I felt that family, friends, and people we don’t even know are, in some way, typecasting us as economically naive, foolish, or even irresponsible for pursuing our creativity? How many of us have succomb to the pressure of this typecast and gotten that safe day job because we distrusted our instincts that we could not only survive as artists but thrive?
Creating an easily identifiable economic shape from an art-form is difficult to do largely, I believe, because of how our society perceives the artistic personality. And with this typecast we are as a group labeled, or told we are destined to be, starving artists.
Those two words starving artist suggest that we all possess a figurative and literal willingness to die for our art- foolishly. We all know that stereotypes are not easy to change and yet in the 18th century Mozart was one example of this portrayal, and even Hollywood continues to portray artists in this same way today.
Box office successes like the film Amadeus (1984), which depicted the composing genius Wolfang Amadeus Mozart (played by Tom Hulce) perpetuate the stereotype: writing music on his deathbed out of desperation to earn some money to feed his family. The film nicely portrayed Mozart as a creative genius but showed us he only had two skills: writing music and womanizing. Mozart was portrayed as an economically foolish musician, without a plan, groveling by writing music whenever he needed money.
In Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), Glenn Holland (played by Richard Dreyfuss), a musician and composer, takes a teaching job to pay the rent so that in his spare time, he can strive to achieve his true goal to compose one memorable piece of music to leave his mark on the world. He could get paid to teach (albeit not much), but not to compose.
Starting in 2006, HBO launched a new comedy series called Flight of The Conchord, which follows the trials and tribulations of a two-man band trying (with little success) to make a name for itself in New York City. This new series exposes the struggles of starving artists; albeit in a humorous way. In 2007 this comedy series was renewed by HBO and continues to run successfully to this day.
A couple of clear messages are evident from these three examples, which span more than thirty years ( And I am sure each of you can give me many, many more):
Artists have more creative talent than they use to earn a living
Artists are incapable of earning a living with their specific talent, no matter how hard they try
Society, in these examples alone that span over two hundred years, continues to perpetuate the stereotype of starving artists.
Many artists, who try to stay true to their core to make a living from their art form, find it difficult to develop more in-demand skills that the world needs and will financially reward precisely BECAUSE of society’s continued separation between art and business perpetuating the starving artist stereotype.
Instead, artists are encouraged to only develop artistic skills and are taught to put all of their self-worth and value in what they create on their canvas. And many of our institutions of higher education do little to help us with this either.
After all fine arts higher education emphasizes one-on-one instruction, individual contribution, and single-skill building, at the expense of developing a portfolio of economically viable skills. Fine arts students are short-changed because they don’t learn how to share or build creative works collaboratively, as is often taught in engineering, business, law, and medical schools. Writers, poets and artists of all types, as a result, are far more vulnerable to emotional turmoil and financial destruction.
As artists we leave the womb wired to be emotionally and intuitively based. Most courses offered in higher education do not include training to incorporate our emotional and intuitive development as an equally important part of our creative and financial development.
From my individual work with more than a thousand artists from all disciplines, the number one obstacle to finding sustainable creative and financial outcomes, lies in an artists inability to channel their artistic and creative obsession-the juice that fuels their creativity into a productive economic vehicle. Thus the label “Starving Artist” continues.
But I know you already know this because you are here checking out this blog and my work. I know you believe the world, for you and for others you know, can be different. It IS Time For Change. It’s time to write, going forward, a new kind of history.
So, let’s make a pact to change the state of the arts. Let’s work together to do it: One Artist at a Time.
If you support this cause let me know by emailing me your name and address and I will send you a free button to get the word out about where you stand on this issue.