Should the Artist Starve?

If you want a successful career as a photographer, you have to dismiss one toxic term that damaged our industry: "starving artist." It has caused more damage and more self-doubt to artists across the globe than probably anything else.

Before photographers can get on the case of non-paying photography clients, we have to recalibrate how we present ourselves. What does starving artist, mean or better yet, what does it do? It normalizes the struggle that artists have had for centuries: that they must barely make ends meet if they would like to be considered a serious artist.

It normalizes taking advantage of creatives and the work that they produce. We must keep them starving to appreciate them, and when they pass away, we'll honor them. It normalizes prejudice within our community because if a creative is making a lucrative salary, then they must be a sellout, right? 

Who Benefits From This Phrase?

Who do you think benefits from this phrase? Who benefits from us having internal fighting and judging each other? Who do you think pushes this concept? I think it's the people who would hire you, the wealthy, the big corporations, the media. Watch the video to get a full understanding of this statement and why all of us should work towards eliminating these two words. 

All of them benefit from our work. And if we understand our pure value, they would be paying a whole lot more. It does not matter what type of art you make, charge for it. You should never starve! In many cases, you ought to be doing better than the customers hiring you.

Artists Contribute So Much!

We build television shows and music videos, songs and photographs, commercials, and book covers. We cover ugly and beautiful city walls with our work, giving it texture and stories. We could even make the darkest alleys relevant. We share stories with the world and build incredible dating profiles that get the ring on the finger. We, as creative artists launch brand after brand. We are the brand shapers, we are the brand makers, and they could not do what they do without us.

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8 Comments
Tom Reichner's picture

I think the term, "starving artist" comes from people like myself. I love to create and work hard at the craft of photography. But I hate - I mean really, really hate - to put any time or thought into the business end of things. I do not like selling my photos, and I do not like marketing myself.

I want to spend endless hours out in nature photographing wildlife, and sitting at my computer looking at the photos and thinking about how to get even better photos.

But I don't want to spend even 5 minutes a day in selling or marketing activities. Just don't feel like it.

So that is why the term "starving artist" is so widespread, because there are artists in many genres who want to spend almost all of their time working on their art itself, but who don't bother spending much time at all trying to derive income from that art. We keep pouring ourselves into our craft, but ignore doing anything that would bring us more income.

Chris Rogers's picture

"But I hate - I mean really, really hate - to put any time or thought into the business end of things. I do not like selling my photos, and I do not like marketing myself."

I agree. I would rather lick Satans butt hole than do any of that. it's annoying, not fun, and takes too much time away from me doing what I actually want to do.

Ray Sheffer's picture

Artists need to look at the business end the same as the medium art we are in. Business is a form of art.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Then why there is no term « starving personal assistant » or « starving accounts receivable accountant »?

Gary Pardy's picture

The flip side of this is the artist who doesn't need his art to... uhhhh ... feed himself. Photography can become a pretty expensive hobby pretty fast. If you have the means to get every tool you want in your kit, that's great - but there are lessons that can be learned when we create art within the constraints of a... uhhhh... lean kit.

Warren Marquez's picture

I don't think "starving artist" really stands. However, "art comes from pain" to me is very apropos. I think my best photos come when I see something that affects me personally in a gut-wrenching manner. Emotions are high and you have a personal interest (vendetta?) in the scene.

Tom Reichner's picture

Okay, but ......

This article, the video, and the whole topic are about artists deriving income from their art - all about the financial viability of artistic endeavors. I am not seeing how your comment addresses this topic that is at hand.

Fritz Gessler's picture

all and every really good artists - be they photographers or painters or musicians or writers - went through a period (normally at the beginning of their carreer) when they were starving (some of them literally) artists! obviously it was necessary to thrive their innate talents up to a level of mastership afterwards.
all of those, who start pampered from a secure position with a fix and garantueed carreer in mind may become technically masters in their arts - but never ever create real lasting masterpieces.
think about!
ps: nevermind, in nearest future, ai robots may take the pics, not human artists. and some asperger-CEO masterminds may chose then their bestselling products: it will be culture at level zero.
happiest of all new worlds imaginable. lamentably.