The Myth of the Starving Artist

I am a believer that living a life doing something you love for work every day does not mean a life living on tins of baked beans in a cold and dark bedsit (unless that’s what you want). But I never used to be this way. I spent four years stuck in an accountancy job I hated, because I was afraid that if I did what I really wanted to do – in my case, writing for a living – I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills and end up starving on the street. I have been writing for a living for just over three years now, and have definitely been able to pay the bills – not to mention occasionally satisfy my love of fine dining, foreign travel, and even start investing (yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd – blame the Maths degree).

IMG_3091 (I also like to take many gratuitous pictures of food. You’ll have to humour me.)

It turns out I wasn’t alone: many people are afraid to leave a job they hate for work they love, because they are afraid they won’t be able to support themselves or their loved ones – particularly if the ‘work they love’ involves a creative or artistic career. There is this belief in our culture of the ‘starving artist’: the idea that if you want to make a living from your own creative endeavours, you won’t ever earn enough to pay the bills.

I want to tell you that it’s not true. There are many others making a living from their own creative endeavours – some are making a very good living as well – who will also tell you that it’s not true. I’m not even talking about wildly successful people like, say, Harry Potter author J K Rowling, photographer Mario Testino, or artist Damien Hirst; ordinary men and women like you and me are making a living from their own creativity. So why does our culture continue to perpetuate the ‘starving artist’ stereotype?

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