Real Artists do starve. Hell yeah maybe! But what if it turns out to be a myth? And the truth becomes, Real Artists Don’t Starve?

Well, today’s book review is about the wonderful book of Jeff Goins, “Real Artists Don’t Starve – Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age”, discovering the myth behind the idea of starvation of the real artists.

Jeff in his book, perfectly pulls the curtain from a misunderstood concept, that we all must counter for at least once in our life.

The author starts the book with the journey of Henry Murger, who was born in the era after the death of  Michael Angelo – one of the greatest artists to be ever born. Surrounded by the geniuses of his time and dream of joining them, Murger ended up publishing the Scènes de la vie de bohème, a collection of stories that romanticized poverty. This collection was the first step to launch poverty with creative art into the public’s mind.

Let’s be honest, anyone in our circle, who dreams of painting, film-making, any friend who wants to pursue his career as a novel writer, or a passionate graphic designer crazy enough to design a masterpiece, what do we say to them? Be careful, you just might starve. The desired field might not have enough scope or it won’t let continue your living.

All thanks to these myths, we see enormous people choosing the safe route by pursuing the general fields. We see people in our surroundings become bankers instead of actors, doctors instead of artists, engineers instead of singers, etc. This book beautifully strangled the myth of the Starving Artists as unfortunate Bohemians who struggle at the lowest end of society.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. – Michael Angelo

Michael Angelo – A Millionaire or a Starving Artist?

For centuries people believed that Michael Angelo had lived his life in a very poor and frugal manner often complaining about money.

It turns out it wasn’t true at all. In fact, he was very rich. Professor Hatfield uncovered a fortune worth roughly $47 million today, arguably making Michael Angelo the richest artist of the renaissance.

Inspired by the story of Michael Angelo, the author replaced the analogy of ‘starving artist’ with ‘thriving artist’. So if you don’t want your best work to die with you, you must train yourself to think and behave differently than the ways we have been told artists behave. Don’t starve for your art. Help it thrive.

Thriving Artist vs Starving Artist

To prevent yourself from ending up as a starving artist, the author suggests the principle of the thriving artist to live by – the rules of the new renaissance.

According to the author:

  1. The starving believes you must be born an artist. The thriving artist knows you must become one.
  2. The starving artist tends to be original, while the thriving artist steals from his influences.
  3. The starving artist believes he has enough talent. Whereas, the thriving artist apprentices under a master.
  4.  The stubborn artist often ends up as a starving artist and those who become stubborn about the right things end up as a thriving artist.
  5. Till the starving artist waits to be noticed, the starving artist cultivates patrons.
  6. The starving artist believes he can be creative anywhere. The thriving artist goes where creative work is already happening. So don’t be too creative. You just might starve.
  7. The starving artist always prefers to work alone. The thriving artist collaborates with others.
  8. The starving artist does his work in private. The thriving artist practices in public.
  9. The starving artist works for free. The thriving artist always works for something.
  10. The starving artist sells out too soon. The thriving artist resists and owns his work.
  11. The starving artist masters one craft. The thriving artist masters many.
  12. The starving artist despised the need for money. The thriving artist makes money to make art.

The author in the aforementioned comparisons uncovers some stark myths about artists that usually believed in our society with close eyes. You aren’t born an artist – and to become an artist, you mustn’t necessarily have inborn qualities. Only those who become a starving artist or those who are afraid of becoming an artist belief in this. Similarly, the author expresses other principles differentiating between what makes an artist thriving and the other starving.

Become a Real Artist: Start simple, start small, and start now!

What I like about this book is the case study and idea for future artists. Jeff Goins astonishingly expresses the idea that to become an artist, you do not necessarily need to take a giant leap and leave your job, or put yourself into isolation, or must look for and do something unprecedented. In fact, He is of the idea that the most significant change in our lives begins with a simple step, not a giant leap. And in case if you’re wondering what time and date should you begin; then the author suggests that you shouldn’t wait for the perfect time — start now.

Over time, these steps add up and may take years for people to recognize your work, but this slow and steady route is often better, sustainable, and helps you to become a thriving artist.

Remember no one had been born to paint or sing or dance from day one, you didn’t. You choose to become yourself what you are, and if the role you are currently playing in your life isn’t the one you wanted, then you chose to become someone else, not the real you.

When John Grisham finished his first-ever novel “A Time to Kill”, he pitched it to forty different publishers who all rejected the book. Calm and composed, he started writing another novel. But unlike the previous time, he had three years of experience and was imminent of the fact that the creative life is a series of small steps more than any giant leap. However, while working on his second book, Grishan published his book with a limited stock of 500 copies. When he realized, the publisher hadn’t much to offer, he bought one thousand copies to market the book on his own.

Besides, promoting his first novel “A Time to Kill”, John Grisham finished another book “The Firm”, which ended up taking a major publisher and catapulted his career. It wasn’t until he was two bestsellers in his writing career that he felt confident enough to leave his law practice and pursue writing full time. That’s the real art of moving slowly but steadily.

“Art is always found at the fringes, at the edge of our discomfort where true change occurs. It’s never too late to start living a new story. You just have to become who you are, taking small steps aligning the way.”

This was what the famous basketball player Adrian Cardenas did too. Being a professional athlete, when he realized he no longer enjoys the game, he wanted to quit immediately. But his mother insists that he should invest the money he had made in some property and plan the gradual transition. The result was a long-lasting career in creative writing instead of a brief one. Doing something so small and gradual often leads to much more sustainable success.

Remember you can do extraordinary things when you’re patiently persistent.

Later in the book, Jeff Goins comes with the most important fact (to me), which stridently strikes my mind. The author unveils the rule of creative theft, arguing with the help of a quote by Will Durant that ‘there is nothing new under the Sun’. What we perceive as original is often just a rearrangement of what has come before. That is what we called creativity.

Good artists copy, great artists steal

The author describes creativity as something not being original; but about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material.

The author believes the innovation is really iteration. We learn from those who come before us and borrow from their creations to make things the world is called ORIGINAL. Like the legendary Picasso has been attributed to saying, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. Fun fact: there are others as well who have been credited for this saying. Even the quote about stealing is not an original creation.

Creative theft is not something you do because you’re lazy or unpassionate. Contrary to the fact, all great artists steal, but they all do so elegantly, borrowing ideas from many sources and arranging them in new and interesting ways till their art becomes a marvel of creativity.

Remember, when Jim Henson made his TV debut in a show called ‘Sam and Friends’, the audience believed that novelty was what made the show a success. Where in reality, everything Jim did had already been done in one way or another, but it was Jim’s creativity — His ability to borrow the work from many sources and reassemble them into something marvelous.

That is how creativity works!

Of course, everyone wants to be sound original – no one wants to be accused of being a copycat. But only a thriving artist knows that stealing from your influences is how you make your art great. There is nothing dishonest or illegal about doing creative theft – borrowing other people’s work and building on it. And remember, it really does pay you or make you rich to steal when it carries out in the right way.

The story of creative theft isn’t limited to Jim Hanson only; in fact, it is the world order of the artists’ world. From the ancient world to the modern world, from the Romans; who stole much of the art from the Greeks. And the Greeks, of course, borrowed from each other –  Sparta from Athens and vice versa. On and on it goes. That is how cultures are made: you copy what has come before you and build upon it to make it better.

The most creative minds in the world are not especially creative; they are just better at rearrangement. In order to do that, they have to be familiar with their influences. They have to study before they steal.

Besides explaining creative theft; the author sheds some light on another yet important factor: to surround yourself with your apprentices – where you decide to live.

Choose your location wisely – Places do matter, people do matter

Take Ernest Hemingway as an example, a noble laureate in English literature. It wasn’t until he met novelist Sherwood Anderson who told him to move to Paris because it was where the most interesting people in the world lived.

On his advice, he decided to move to Paris, where Hemingway found a small community of intellectuals and expatriates who weren’t unlike themselves. Consequently, here He met soon-to-be-famous authors and artists who would then become his closest friends and influence and shape his work transforming him into “Papa”, the larger-than-life figure who would define the literary style of the generation.

Life in Paris definitely provided Hemingway an invaluable education for an up-and-coming writer in the 1920’s, and he used it all to fuel his writing. Later. he translated his experiences into the Sun Also Rises, a semiautobiographical novel that would earn him widespread fame.

Rule of the scene says, that places and people do shape the success of our work far more than we realize. The most important factor in the success of your career is where you decide to live.

Location isn’t relevant. Place matters. As a social psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “Creativity is more likely in places where new ideas require less effort to be perceived”.

Without Paris you do not get Hemingway; and without a scene, you do not get a creative genius (Ernest Hemingway obviously).

Be the real artist so you don’t starve

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins is really a treat to read, especially if you’re an artist or aspire to become one. Apart from the rules that differentiate a thriving artist from a starving artist, this book offers much more to its reader. It teaches the artist how to harness your stubbornness; collaborate with others; never work for free; how to get the audience for your work and to own it successively. Hence after reading this, you might not end up in your life as a starving artist.

Unfortunately, the term starving artist has become a norm in our society lately. Society is obliged to believe that a real artist always starves. When in reality, the starving of the artist is more to do with the artist than the art itself. Creativity and commerce have always coexisted. They are both interlinked. As much as art needs money, money also needs art.

The popes and kings of the world are indebted to artists for preserving their legacies via portraits and tombs and all kinds of art. Art and business have always needed each other and worked together over the years. The world we live in today is the result of such timeless marriage.

However, to become a thriving artist, the artist needs money to keep their art thriving. Because with money, opportunity alone doesn’t pay the bills. Neither exposure put food on the table. Thus, this book helps all the aspiring artists on how to thrive your art and become a real artist. Because as they say, Real Artists Don’t Starve.

Pro tip: If you’re a content writer, filmmaker, or content creator, this is a must-read book for you!

Thanks for the read 😉

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