The “Starving Artist” Slur


It’s no secret that I am on a personal mission to eliminate the “starving artist” mythology.

How? By helping artists secure their creative freedom by teaching them focused business savvy.

Rule 10 in my new book “SELL YOUR ART without Selling Out, 101 Rules” is:

The “starving artist” mythology is a fundamentally disrespectful prejudice. Believing it perpetuates unnecessary self-limitation and injury.

Allow me to count five reasons why “Starving Artist” is a destructive slur.

1. The “starving artist” mythology is a fundamentally disrespectful prejudice that stops too many artists before they even get started. Many people just expect that artists must “struggle” for success or “suffer” for their art. Yeah. Whatever.

2. This limiting bias can easily be self-imposed. I’m the first to admit that I too thwarted and delayed my own success as an artist by falling for this mind trap.

I believed that I had to surrender my art to pursue a more “practical” career path so that I could have a “happy and productive” conventional life. 

But that “practical” career path turned out to be an “impractical” path of the highest order.

The pressures of running my artistic enterprise pale in comparison to my experience of the corporate grind.

3. The myth is a lie. During the first year of my artistic enterprise, I was actually more creative than ever before and I made more money than I had ever earned working for the man. And not by a small margin. It was over $100,000 in 2005.

4. Rule 25 is “Artists are thought leaders. That’s why we are the first to be commissioned and executed during a political revolution.”

 Our culture values freedom of expression and we celebrate creativity because our economy is built upon innovation.

So you would think artists could get a little respect? Unlike scientists and engineers, we don’t.

5. Rather than jokingly referring to me as an “Artsy-Fartsy Starving Artist” I would much rather people just come straight out with it and call me a “stupid loser.” Because to me, those disrespectful “playful” remarks sound about the same.

 I’m even more annoyed by other artists who broadcast their scarcity mentality.

I’m appalled that artists can be some of the worst offenders of the “starving artist” slander by throwing up the spineless excuse that they don’t really care about selling their art, when they really do.

I also find in galling when artists don’t really know how to sell their art so they excuse themselves by pretending that they just don’t want to be a “sell out.”

Come on. Admit it! On the whole we don’t know how to sell our art. Why? Because if we ask how we are going to sell our art in art school we are shamed for even asking the question.

What the hell does “selling out” really mean anyway? Does anyone even know?

And why is it that artists are accusing other more successful artists of “selling out? 

This unquestioned prejudice reminds me of a time when I was elected to be the foreman on a jury.

I asked a fellow jury member to share her thoughts about the evidence supporting the guilt or the innocence of the young female defendant. Obviously, this was a very important question.

Her response? “I don’t know. I’m just a women.”

I felt an urge well up inside me to slap her. But I refrained.

Instead I reminded her that each of us carried a vital responsibility as a juror, male or female.

Just as racist, sexiest, and all manner of other unquestioned negative cultural biases and insults can limit the victim’s opportunities they also erode our culture and our economy. We all miss out.

Yet the irony is revealed in the answer to this question. “Who are some of the people we most admire?” It’s artists.

Hardcopies of my new book “SELL YOUR ART without Selling Out, 101 Rules” are now available on Amazon here. 

  (Ann Rea is a nationally recognized artist and creator and instructor of an intimate, live, online, foundational eight-week business course for artists called MAKING Art Making MONEY.)

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  1. says

    I am fed up with it, too. There are so many artists out there making a great living from their craft. Art is everywhere! It’s obviously an integral part of our culture, but it’s like some people don’t realize that it’s everywhere they look, and that somebody was in fact paid to make it or design it.
    When I see an artist putting themselves down and saying they’ll never be a success, it’s exasperating!

  2. says

    HI Ann,
    I tuned in to and bought your recent Creative Live course… it simply ROCKED! I am an acrylic painter and the creator of the soon to be launched weekly web TV show, The Exquisite Revolution – and what you are doing for artists is truly both Exquisite and Revolutionary indeed! I look forward to following and supporting your growing success with this work as it unfolds. It is so powerful and SO needed by so many! ;)


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