I hope to devote my life to creation. But I don’t want to be a starving artist. Instead, my goal is to be a “well-fed artist”.
A starving artist puts their work above all else, including material well-being. They aspire to make a living from their art, but just haven’t broken out yet. Though this lifestyle of sacrifice is romanticized by many, the harsh reality is that most artists don’t make it.
It’s a life of struggle, rooted in a lack of money. Sometimes, you’re stressed about the source of your next paycheck. Others, you work uninspiring jobs that pay small sums of money in exchange for large swaths of your time. (Aspiring actors and service jobs, name a better duo.) This spares you with little time, money and sanity to focus on your art.
More insidiously, it can corrupt your purity of purpose - even once you make it. If the art is your primary source of income, you are always subject to the whims of your audience. What you want to create is not necessarily what they want to buy. In fact, the intersection between the two is quite narrow. In order to make ends meet, you may be compelled to compromise on your vision. Is the art serving you or is it the other way around?
A well-fed artist, on the other hand, achieves financial independence first. Your basic needs are met through an income source that occupies minimal time. As a result, you don’t face the above issues. It affords you the time and freedom to pursue your artistic vision in its purest form.
You have no job to prevent you from dedicating uninterrupted stretches of time towards your craft. These are necessary for fostering creativity. By not relying on others to buy your work, you are uninhibited by external expectations. This leads to creations that are truly authentic, made just for you. Ironically, it’s often these works that gain the most widespread popularity.
Of course, everyone wants to be a well-fed artist. More money. More time. More freedom. What’s not to like? It’s easier said than done, though. The real question is: how do you reach that goal? Some start off as starving artists, hoping to break through eventually. This robs them of their well being and time. It also risks corrupting their vision. Others defer their art and focus solely on making money first. This is a trap that few recover from; they keep moving the goalposts for when they will switch over.
I chose a middle path. I left my lucrative job, but not to create full-time… at least in the conventional sense. Eventually, I aspire to write books, perform stand-up and host podcasts. In the meantime, I’m building a business. It’s a win-win. It scratches the itch of creation and (partially) supports me financially. I get to innovate and craft a product that’s never existed before. I have the privilege of sharing it with the world and observing its impact.
Most importantly, it gives me optionality if I fail. If it takes off, I can become financially independent and a well-fed artist. If it doesn’t, I gained business experience and made money while doing something I enjoy. I’m sure that can be parlayed into something bigger. It’s either a straight shot to my goal or a stepping stone - no matter what, I’m moving forward.
P.S: You can find more of my thoughts on Twitter @_suketk.