Is it possible for artists to not only survive, but thrive, doing the work that matters most to them? According to the well researched book by Jeff Goins, not only can you do that but the starving artist idea is a self-imposed myth. Starting with Michelangelo, and working through a variety of historic and current examples, Real Artists Don’t Starve supplies a variety of examples and principles (12 Rules of the New Renaissance) to help you build on the foundation of financially successful artists.
I’ve always wanted to write, but felt compelled to go into areas that were considered “acceptable” professions. My undergrad story started as an accounting major even though I hate math. It changed to history, then youth ministry, then a youth ministry and missions double major before flunking out for the second time. When I finally finished 14 years after starting, my BS was in Religion.
I’ve done a ton of blogging intermittently over the years, written a variety of things just for myself, and even tried learning guitar for a bit. Even so, I kept feeling like everyone around was always trying to push me to some kind of real job. Thankfully, I love academia and the creative elements of Instructional Design and Online Education enough that I’ve cruised through the master’s and doctoral level. Even so, I’m still constantly feeling the tension of starting my career in that area while also pursuing my writing passions and creating habits that support both. One of the biggest helps has been Jeff Goins, through his writing and classes, and that help hits a crescendo with his most recent book.
I don’t agree with every point in the book, but the overall message is excellent. For instance, in chapter two, I have a minor quibble with a quote about creativity. Jeff says, “The most creative minds in the world are not especially creative; they’re just better at rearrangement.” I would posit that rearrangement is itself a type of creativity that can be identified and cultivated.
Real Artists Don’t Starve
Before anything else, you must get your head around who you are and what you want to do. Gaining an understanding of the reality of who you are and what you do gives you a foothold in building an artistic career that can thrive. Master this and allow it to inform you on the rest of your journey towards being an artist without qualifiers.
You Aren’t Born an Artist
“Before you can create great art, you first have to create yourself.”
Stop Trying to Be Original
“Creativity is not about being original; it’s about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material.”
Apprentice Under a Master
“The first step in an apprenticeship is to find a master worth studying. When you find such a person, consume as much of their work as possible. Read everything they’ve written, watch everything they do, and buy whatever they might be selling. Your goal is to familiarize yourself with their work…Then do exactly what they say.”
Harness Your Stubbornness
“Ironically, Fitzgerald’s book endured even when he did not. But what might have happened to the author if he hadn’t given up so soon? What if he’d had more grit, been a little more tenacious, and harnessed this stubbornness?”
If you don’t understand what the market is, how it works, and what you need to do to plug in, you’re putting yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage. You must find ways to support your work, find others with a similar goal, and put your work out there to get feedback.
“You can’t just ask for a hand-out; you must demonstrate both competency in your craft and a willingness to learn. Influencers love to inspire and invest in others, so make it easy on them.”
Go Join a Scene
“Without Paris, you do not get Hemingway; and without a scene, you do not get a creative genius.”
Collaborate With Others
“The New Renaissance is not about working in isolation; it’s about finding more ways to collaborate with other like-minded creatives. Our success is closely related to our ability to work well with others.”
Practice in Public
“Thriving Artists do more than bloom where they’re planted; they put their work where it has the greatest potential to succeed.”
Making money is essential to being a successful artist, so avoiding it is counterintuitive. Instead of believing the lie that we should just make our art without an eye towards how much people pay for it, it’s much better to value our art financially the way it should be. Don’t buy the trope about art for art’s sake, but realize you are providing value and charge accordingly. Making money isn’t the enemy, it’s a way to guarantee you can make more of your art.
Don’t Work for Free
“You have to be willing to do the job of an artist, which includes more than just making things — it means charging what you’re worth.”
Own Your Work
“The more you own of your work, the more creative control you have…We must maintain as much ownership of our work as possible, not because it will make us rich but because it will make the work better.”
Diversify Your Portfolio
“Every decade or so, the artist (Michelangelo) would tackle a new skill, essentially reinventing himself and adding something new to his ever-increasing portfolio.”
Make Money to Make Art
“When we find ways to make money, it buys us time and gives us the opportunity to create more.”
What Are You Going To Do About It?
If you are working in a creative field, or want to, what are you doing to make it happen? Are you going to keep buying the myths that have been believed for so long, or are you willing to re-examine things and move forward with the facts you need to change your future?