The Myth of the Starving Artist
Once upon a time there were artists who were highly regarded in their community, cities and villages. Very often these artist were leading citizens. They were members of the apothecary guild since they had to mix their own paints. They were learned and knowledgeable people. The better known artists were sought after by the lords and gentry of the time. Portraits of the well-to-do commanded a pretty penny. So where did it all go wrong?
Time took care of this however and when the industrial age descended on the world the part played by artists diminished. The rise of democracy tends to cut both ways. Freedom brings competition and life can get tough when capitalism steps in. Ask the Russians after the Berlin wall came down.
Perhaps the idea of the starving artist as a romantic notion developed with the impressionist period from the late 1880’s. These artists rejected the traditional art of the time and they were denounced by the salons that controlled the artist’s exhibitions. So the impressionists started their own exhibitions, but support was slim and money was tight. Many artists suffered for their art. Artists like Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Gauguin and Sisley among others all went through hard times. Many pulled through and had decent incomes late in life. Others like Sisley remained poor to the bitter end.
The idea of the starving artist had taken root. It seems that artists were pegged as unconventional at best and anarchists at worst. Traditional professions and trades ensured a decent living, but if an artist ignored these options then the poor house beckoned. Yes society can shun an outrageous artist, but this applies to any person in any profession too. Conformity is not an easy fit for artists either. It often comes down to choices made by the artist.
A New Deal for Artists
In the new millenium the progress made in technology and freedom of information has given artists abundant opportunity to market and produce more work. Strange thing is that there still seems to be the starving artist idea out there. Are some artists choosing to be poor? Is struggle necessary to look like an authentic artist? Or perhaps some are too preoccupied to learn about the business side of art. Just about any business struggles to succeed for at least five years. Artists have many more options than traditional painting and sculpture, but persistence is critical.
There are many resources and people ready to make artists rich. This often entails buying someones book or e-course on how to sell and save. I am all for self-education so make your choices and learn.
Choices! It comes back to the fundamentals and there are no short cuts. But this does not mean closing ones eyes to new things. Improve your art and learn all you can about marketing and good business practice. Sounds boring, but selling a painting from your business efforts is fulfilling too. Personally I know there is much more to learn, but creating art comes first. Perhaps devoting 60% of your time to creating and the rest to business seems reasonable.
What works for you?
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa