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The Starving Artist: the myth, the money

Opinion

The Starving Artist: the myth, the money

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Is every artist a starving artist?

When I tell people I’m an artist, I sometimes get asked: “So… how does that… work out? Financially?”

I used to get offended at this question, as though people were implying that I didn’t have a real job. I didn’t like the assumption that because I’m an artist, I must be starving. But after a while, I began to perceive the question behind the question. The real question people seem to be asking is “Does it work out financially? Is a creative life a real, grounded-in-the-world kind of life?”

It’s not an unfair question, given our romantic ideas about the poverty and promiscuity and self-destructiveness of artists. It’s all very dramatic, and not nearly as sexy as you’d imagine, to be a starving artist.

But the short answer, for me, is yes. It does work out financially. It works out for millions of people who call themselves artists.

I’ve been a freelance storyboard artist for several years, since 2012, and I earn a proper living from it. Enough to house me, feed me and feed my savings. Sure, I could be earning more (who couldn’t?) but I feel very fortunate. I have a lot of freedom and time, and I get to make money in a pleasurable way.

My money works exactly the same way as anybody else’s. It comes in and it goes out. Money I earn through making art is no more real or unreal than if I earned it cleaning toilets or picking stocks. Money is very unromantic, but democratic, that way.

Why is money hard for artists?

It’s not the economics of an art job that are so different from everyone else’s. At the end of the day, we’re just making products and providing services. It’s the emotional hurdles and the clash with other people’s expectations that are hard. People react differently to artists charging for their services than they would to a banker or a doctor. Earning money as an artist is fraught with more than the usual helping of self-doubt, social scepticism, and lack of entitlement to the material things in life.

We suffer the same romantic and unrealistic ideas about art careers. Money can feel unreal to artists, like we earned it dishonestly or black-magicked it into existence. We feel a dissociation with our money as a result. We feel like we’re getting away with something because work is supposed to be awful and unenjoyable. Our dedication to our craft has to be harsh and ascetic to be real. We can’t like money. That would cheapen us and our work.

We’re not supposed to be worldly beings, concerned with spreadsheets and school fees and paying the bond. But we’re also not ‘legit’ until people pay us for what we do. It’s an unclosing loop of horribleness, if you think about it too hard.

Artists are not super confrontational about what’s rightfully theirs. We forego money because we don’t believe we deserve it, or that our work deserves it. And when we do earn money for our efforts, we feel like the biggest frauds.

Sometimes, we’re just not professional about our professions. I would bet many successful artists default on their taxes because, in their view, the money they earned making art simply ‘doesn’t count’ in their minds. Except, to the government, it does.

Over and above our lack of entitlement to money, we also have another narrative working against us; we’re bad at money. Egregious spenders that make the news, or financial and social hermits, or easy targets for fraudsters and financial parasites. We even sometimes use being ‘the artsy type’ to cover up behaviour problems like getting into debt or addiction or treating people badly.

I hate to spoil anyone’s romantic notions, but being an artist works the same way as any other career. Our money works the same way as anyone else’s money. And, unless you like the consequences and drama of addiction, debt and poverty (and some people do), you’re probably aiming to live a sane and upwardly mobile life as an artist.

What’s wrong with bettering yourself at your craft and becoming well-known and respected for what you do? Working hard and smart to gradually buy your freedom? Wanting to spend more time being creative and less time worrying about money?

There’s a lot more I could say on the topic. If you’re interested in this subject, or just need a good block-buster for your art career, I recommend the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

You don’t have to be a starving artist

This is what I want to discuss in my blog. Financial independence,
basic finance, freelancing, psychology, lifestyle design. These ideas could apply to anybody, but artists are often likely to discount themselves as an audience for financial advice. I also happen to believe that everyone is inherently creative, but that’s a post for another day.

I also hope I can lure some people to write posts about their experiences in the different worlds of professional art-making and money-wrangling.

Ultimately, this is opinion and story-sharing, not gospel. I’m not the most experienced at any of this. I’ve just got an interest in artists-as-business-people and in personal finance, and I’m excited to share it with you all. Be sure to visit my resources page and learn about the world of personal finance for yourself.

I hope my blog encourages you, a new artist of whatever age, working and not. I hope it helps you to take yourself seriously (or not so seriously) and to feel validated in your choices.

Now go out and get your drawing money.

Article reposted with permission from Drawing Money.



PLUS, we'll send you our Zonotho Personal Finance Starter pack to help you take your financial prowess to the next level!


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I’ve been a freelance artist in the film and animation industry since 2012 and I’m still alive! I am not a financial advisor nor am I legally enabled to give you financial advice. I’m a storyboard artist and a writer who’s made a lot of mistakes with money and consider myself well-read on the subject because I had to teach myself. The content on my blog is for educational purposes only and is my own experience and opinion and research.

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