Starving Artist Lifestyle
Most creatives (unless they come from money) believe that they must go through the Starving Artist phase on their journey to success. Worse still, some believe that this is all an artist can ever be.
Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of Eat, Pray, Love) said something in her book Big Magic that I’ll never forget. She said that she never asked her art (writing) to pay her bills. I’m paraphrasing, but basically, she never put that pressure on herself or her work.
Creativity is a beautiful thing. It should not be something that we milk and drain until it is dry for the sake of money.
Does this mean we must be starving artists, then, if we’re not aiming to make money from our art? No! It means that you should just be sensible about it. Get another job while your artwork isn’t making you money. That way the pressure is off, you can pay the bills, and your creative work can thrive and be what it wants to be without you asking it to be something else.
I get it, trust me. It sucks to have a job you don’t like while you’re working on your stuff. But it’s worse to struggle and put that pressure on yourself. If you want, and if it works for you, you could sell your talents (your art form) in another way aside from your bigger personal projects.
For example, I am a freelance writer while I write my books and my blog. This means I can support myself financially, and with my writing ability, but I’m not putting all the pressure on my books and my blog to make me money. Get it? But this doesn’t work for everyone, and it has often left me drained; so, it’s about finding what works for you.
Stop saying to yourself, or buying into the narrative, that it’s OK for you to be struggling for money. Or to be a free-loader who drains the hard-earned money of those around you. It’s not. For a time, if you really need to, yes, it’s OK. But not as a “lifestyle” choice or an unavoidable burden of the artist life!
Tormented Artist Narrative
Another perhaps more troubling belief is that creatives are tormented souls. That to make successful, groundbreaking art, we must be troubled. We must harness the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves and our world in order to make great art.
I think this probably came from the likes of Sylvia Plath and Van Gogh, artists who were mentally ill and it came through in their work. Was their work amazing? Yes. Does that mean you have to be ill or deeply depressed or dark to make great work? Hell no!
Again, this is something Elizabeth Gilbert touched on in Big Magic, which I strongly suggest that all artists read (also check out her podcast of the same name). She said that she had a musician friend who was a deeply depressed alcoholic and drug-abuser, but he didn’t want to seek help for it because he believed it made his art better. When written like this, it sounds ludicrous, but many artists think this way, consciously or not.
Please, just stop. If your art is good, it will always be good. Our moods change; our lives change; our art changes. But whether it is bad or good is not directly correlated with our mood or chosen lifestyle. And it is most definitely not healthy or advised that you give into or enable bad habits and untreated illness (and whatever else) just for the sake of your art.
If you really, truly believe that your art is only good when you are depressed, in a dark place, or doing ill-advised things, then I’m sorry but you’re probably not an artist at all.
You are creative
This is wrong because we aren’t creative, instead, we all can harness creativity. Creativity is not something you are, it’s something you use.
I think when we attach to the identity of being creative, it can feel like we’ve lost ourselves when our creativity isn’t flowing. Like in times when story ideas are eluding me, I can beat myself up because I think, “Well what kind of creative can’t be creative?!”
Instead, a healthier viewpoint is that creativity is something that we all can tap into, nurture, and put to work. Yes, some are better at it than others, but that doesn’t mean we get to say “we’re creative and you’re not.”
So, creative-types, let go of the belief that you ARE creative. Let go of the belief that creativity owes you something. Let go of the belief that you’re better than people who don’t class themselves as creative. Instead, have a healthy, beautiful relationship with creativity by not stifling it or possessing it or identifying as it.
When we let go of these 3 false beliefs, I believe that being an artist or creative person can be a whole lot easier. The journey will suddenly be a lot more fun, too!