The stubborn myth of the “starving artist,” the threadbare but exuberant poet who has to choose between ink and food, isn’t just false, it’s toxic. Notions like this drain your energy and either get you chasing dollars for all the wrong reasons or encourage others to take advantage of you by undervaluing your work.
Textbooks and Hollywood biopics usually gloss over the everyday financial dealings of great artists. As a kid, you never hear about Michelangelo haggling with the Vatican over pricey lapis lazuli paint for the Sistine Chapel ceiling or, more recently, Kathryn Bigelow fighting for top-tier budgets. No one tells you that Ansel Adams wasn’t too proud to accept a payment of 25 cents for allowing his photos to be printed on restaurant menus—and that the decision didn’t scuttle his career.
Where Do Our Ideas About Money Come From
In the end, it’s no wonder that our feelings about the intersection of money and art are complex. And it doesn’t matter whether you just want a creative boost in your life or you’re trying to turn your side hustle into a full-time gig. Ask yourself whether the ideas you cling to about money and art are based on reality or are part of society’s script. If the latter is true, have those limiting beliefs held you back from the prosperous, productive creative career of your dreams? Or even from making a little extra scratch with your hobby?
If they have, why are you holding on to them?
We want our Michelangelos and Bigelows to get paid for their sculpting and filmmaking so they can keep on doing it. And we acknowledge that Ansel Adams might have made the right call to take the quarter at that point in his career.
No matter what you’ve heard or read, creators can make it work financially if they don’t get precious about doing it. When artists can’t figure out how to pay the bills, we all lose. Without money, how are creators supposed to eat between their feats of transcendent communion with the Muse?
There is nothing noble, edgy, or cool about being a starving artist. Starving sucks, plain and simple.
Believing in the myth of the starving artist is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. When aspiring artists have this distorted belief, they accept little or no money for their work, the rest of society gets creative work done too cheaply, and as a consequence other artists have a harder time charging appropriately.
If you don’t want a job that involves your art, find one that supports it. Whether you decide to just get by financially so you can spend time making as much art as possible or you reduce your time commitment to art to keep it stress free and keep your steady paycheck rolling in, you’re making your work, and that’s what matters.
The fact is, creators hold wildly different attitudes toward money. Begin to examine yours. Don’t get precious about it. Have an open mind when it comes to cash and creativity, and do what is in alignment with your calling—and your path to getting there.