Friday, January 26, 2007

The Proud Starving Artist

There is no honor in starving, unless you're Gandhi. There is no other profession where the phrase "starving..." is applied. Try "Starving accountant", "starving mechanic", or even "starving teacher" (well, ok, that one might apply, teachers are way underpaid, but even then, it's just not right.)

Don't live down to this label. Avoid the label like the plague....

Artist Ed Rath(above left) does a great job of illustrating the concept, and the term even annoys him.There's a great commercial running in many metro areas which talks about how to improve your odds of getting a date, and then goes on to talk about having a good credit score. "Say wha?" Yeah, it's damn true. Not having any money, bouncing checks, carrying a growing balance on your credit card statements...these things are not sexy. These things are not what attract a mate.

I can remember when I started out, I ate so much Top Ramen, that I began figuring out ways to make it taste better than it did. I had cupboards full of it, when I could buy it at 10 for $1. I did this however, not because I was just trying to get by on the $25 assignments, but because, as someone just starting out, I had just a few of the $125/hr 4 hr minimum assignments each month. Yet, when you do the math, would you rather do a single assignment for $500 maybe three times a month, or 60 for $25? I submit that with 60 assignments you should be an employee of that company. At $150 an assignment (which is what a few wire services pay and expect you to live on) you'd need 10, or 2.5 a week. Either of these scenarios means that, when the calls (albiet few and far between in the beginning) come in for the $500 assignment, you will be booked doing something else and unable to take the assignment. While I have long-since graduated from Top Ramen, every so often I will pick up a pack, and in an odd way, remember the "good" old days.

In fact, there is even a book, The Starving Artist's Way, that promotes this as something to aspire to. According to the information on the book, the author "...a child of Starving Artists...grew up in the SoHo section of Manhattan when it was still an epicenter of bohemian life...", yet, today, living on SoHo costs practically an arm and a leg. SoHo, from it's stores to it's rent to it's "scene" has moved upscale. Wikipedia even defines Bohemian -- "In modern usage, the term "bohemian" can describe any person who lives an unconventional artistic life, where self-expression is the highest value — that art (acting, poetry, writing, singing, dancing, painting etc) is a serious and main focus of their life. "

Consider this conundrum, however. Is it better to exhibit your self-expressed creations for 6 months, or a few decades? Of course, if you wish to toss all thoughts of longevity aside, six months is great. However, you do yourself a disservice, and you deprive the world of your evolved expressions over time, if you only produce your creative works for just six months, before you are evicted, your artists tools stolen one night by another homeless bohemian who has finally sunk so low that they see the "newfound" tools as a way to right themselves and reaquire a desire for longevity. Ansel Adams found himself in Yosemite on a commercial assignment during the birth of his second child, home in San Francisco. In fact, this photograph shows Adams making a commercial portrait in December of 1966, (coincidentally, the month & year I was born). Yes, the beloved Adams saw himself as a commercial photographer, yet he funded his most striking works by charging as much as he could for the commercial work, so he could choose to create his own self-expressive works on his own time.

Take the time when you're not doing assignments which are under-paying, to prepare and send out material (either via e-mail or postcards) that gets your name out, To prepare a better portfolio, to update (or create for the first time) your website. If nothing else, you'll start to get a few responses, a recognition of consistent correspondence with prospective clients that might just result in an assignment.



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9 comments:

seshu said...

You do mean "Gandhi" right? That's usually the way his name is spelled in English!

John Harrington said...

Yes, thanks, fixed. :-)

yasu said...

I happened to stumble upon this blog from a link at strobist, and boy do I find the contents relevant and enjoyable to read. I found the subject of eating Top Ramen (when you don't have money)quite interesting, because that's a very japanese way. I thought you Americans went for macaroni and cheese under those circumstances.
Thank you for your entertaining insight and comments. By the way, I did purchase a copy of your business book (after your buddy at strobist raved about it)which makes for fine reading when I can get a seat on the crowded train. I wish it was lighter to carry around though. lol

pbillard said...

John,

Especially liked your drawing attention to the twisted mentality of starving artist as a necessity to achieving success (or enlightenment). Whether a curious cultural stereotype or plain old wives tale, it remains alive despite prolific and successful artists widely acclaimed during their lifetime, such as Ansel Adams and Pablo Picasso. Somewhat reminiscent of my blog-thoughts on very narrow uses of creativity amongst photographers. I admire your always interesting content and comfort with the written word.
Peter - www.peterbillardphoto.com

Admin said...

I completely agree with you on this! I've posted my thoughts on the subject at my own art blog.

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