Starving Artists

(Originally posted last year on The Word Zombie, as part of my Blogbuster Tour.)


Today I’d like to talk a bit about the differences between an artist (or artiste, as they usually call themselves) and a professional.  I know too many people who take pride in being labeled starving artists.  They feel if a creative individual makes money off his or her work, its impact or the effort that went into crafting it is somehow diminished.  This appears the same across multiple art forms, from painting to music to writing.

The dirty secret is that starving artists don’t have to starve.  Creative types are generally terrible with numbers (especially money), so shrewd businessmen easily take advantage of them.  These snake oil salesmen no doubt amassed their own fortunes by co-opting others’ bright ideas and wouldn’t be able to conjure an original notion to save their hides.  The artists get exploited in the partnership only because they allow themselves to be.

No one should make more money off an idea than the person who originated it.  I cringe when I hear stories of writers who got paid $5,000 for their novel, then sold the film rights for another $5,000, after which some screenwriter is hired at ten times that rate to perform one-fourth the amount of work.

Artists wait for inspiration to strike.  I find the notion of a Muse too lofty and romantic.  Professionals understand there’s no magic involved in the creative process (well, maybe a pinch).  The only “trick” involves applying one’s talents to the project at hand and not giving up until it’s finished.  For writing a book, that may take anywhere from six months to a year or two.  A professional knows to handle the job like any other career, which requires a tremendous amount of self-motivation and self-discipline.  For example, I know if I don’t treat it like a real job, no one else will.

This warrants two separate skill sets, and many people have difficulty balancing both.  There are the faculties associated with the creative side of the business and those on the entrepreneurial end.  After spending eight months working on a book, pouring my blood and sweat onto the page, I wind up with something to which I’m emotionally and psychologically attached.  It’s my responsibility to set aside those feelings when it comes to selling the project.  I must take off my Creator cap and put on my Businessman cap.  This novel’s no longer my pride and joy; it’s an intellectual property set to be auctioned to the highest bidder.

I understand it’s not all about money.  When cash alone (and not passion) drives one’s motives, one creates art that’s devoid of soul because it was developed for a quick buck.  (In the publishing industry, look no further than James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks to find proof of that.)

Bestseller money isn’t necessary for every writer.  I think most would be quite happy simply making enough to afford such luxuries as health insurance or a retirement plan.  A comfortable living is all many professionals ask; after all, that’s the only way we can justify doing what we love.

And that’s one thing on which both artistes and professionals can agree.

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