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“woman lying on bed of white petaled flower” by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash

Why Is The Starving Artist Dead In A Ditch?

How an old concept is a false reality today.

The concept of the starving artist has only been around for a few hundred years. It started in 1847 when a man named Henri Murger published Scènes de la vie de Bohème which are a collection of stories that romanticize poverty.

The result of that published work brought the starving artist idea to light as plays were created from the stories. Examples are stories like Rent where we follow a filmmaker struggling to keep food on the table. There is also Moulin Rouge which revolves around a writer/poet living in a rundown room and falling in love with a cabaret actress and courtesan.

These plays and many others have seeped into the modern culture to give the impression that all artists are starving artists. It’s gotten to the point now that in modern culture people presume pursuing an arts degree or living a lifestyle as an artist is a joke.

But what is worse of all is that these sort of impressions have made several of us conform to them. That or we find it very difficult to refute it when it’s brought up in conversation.

Deep down, we know that the starving artist is indeed dead. As Michael Thompson has shown, we can work for free and still thrive. Furthermore, Jeff Goins and many artists out there have shown that we have what it takes to thrive.

People with these expectations that artists are poor or that they should be poor not only makes no sense but isn’t the norm.

An Artist’s Work Is Not Free

Let me ask you this:

When was the last time you bought music, bought a book, watched a video or movie, or read an article?

Outside of the one you’re reading right now, the last time was certainly at some point in time today. Maybe a few minutes ago or perhaps an hour ago. Whatever the case may be, you’ve been exposed to an artists work.

Some of these people who created this content may have done so for free with no expectation of payment. Perhaps some — like myself — get paid to create this sort of content. Some of those people may be getting paid a few dollars here and there and some of these people are worth millions of dollars.

While each artist creates of their own free will, they to get to decide how much they think something is worth.

Because some artists choose to publish for free and create for the sake of creating doesn’t mean that’s the norm for the industry. They are still using their talents. You are still using your talents. It’s only fair to ask for compensation if that’s your goal.

And while you can be working for free, there comes a point when you need money. If you offer something that people absolutely need, tell them you’d be happy to help but you also need to eat.

You are not a starving artist.

While I understand the idea behind not accepting money or that an artist may be corrupted by money, I don’t believe that so much any more. For two years I wasn’t paid at all and part of that was by choice. I was afraid of making any kind of income.

For others, their fears could be a fear of success or perhaps it’s someone’s expectations that someone can’t turn a hobby into a full-time business.

Whatever the case may be, working for free is a choice, but it’s not the only option out there for artists.

An Artist’s Work Shouldn’t Be Discounted

While some of us may not be afraid to ask for money, some of us do undervalue our work and effort. As writers, we run into this a lot with freelance work where our clients are expecting hand-outs.

This is the case in many areas as the gig economy is growing more and more. People struggle to put a proper figure on their work. I haven’t run into this personally but my brother has dealt with many people who complained to him that he is asking for too much money. He’s a computer animator.

Obviously artists low-balling their worth is a problem, but the issue goes to the artist’s confidence. Not to mention what sort of things they are dealing with.

An artist who is confident in their worth doesn’t have to worry, even if they are asking for what most would say “expensive”. If you can back up your talent, then the price would surely be worth it. And that is the key in how one can measure your worth as an artist.

Take a look at your results with your writing. Are you getting a lot of read time? How quickly is the site you are running growing? What sort of numbers are you getting from Medium?

To determine your worth look at other’s impressions of you and go from there. If people are engaging with your work and are reading through to the end, it goes to show that you generally have good flow. You also raise points and you can create distinct headlines that keep readers attention.

That sort of talent isn’t worth a penny per word. Professionally speaking, the average writer gets paid one to two dollars per word. Personally speaking, I’d say this price would be good if you can routinely attract a few thousand readers per day. Go even smaller if you can grab a few hundred a day. On Medium I average 100+ daily and I’m building up to $0.10 per word.

Small yes, but it’s respectable for my results right now after spending a year developing my writing.

At the end of the day, you want to price yourself at a point where not only can you live reasonably, but that your general efforts will be able to get your clients to recoup the costs.

Also as a rule of thumb never offer discounts right out the door. Unless you’re well established and people know who you are, don’t settle for less. Remember the price you set is how much you think you are worth. If people complain you’re expensive it’s actually a good sign.

I’d rather pay someone who is confident in their skills as opposed to someone who thinks their skills are noob-tier.

Why The Starving Artist Is Dead

We have all these strange expectations that an artist is starving or deserves to be struggling all through life. And yet we have no issues paying for books (well some of us at least) or consuming various forms of entertainment which artists provide us.

If it wasn’t for artists out there, we wouldn’t have the various mediums — pun intended — in which we consume content and are entertained. With this in mind, people shouldn’t be afraid to take the leap into being an artist if that’s their goal. Furthermore artists need to learn to thrive and be confident in themselves to not be pushed around by others who think they are are worth less.

To your growth!

Eric S Burdon

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Entrepreneur, positive-minded. I used to say a lot, now I do a lot. Documenting my growth. Support me on Patreon: http://bit.ly/2pIEPFR

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