Defeat the Starving Artist Mindset

Banish the myth of the starving artist – and give yourself permission to be successful.


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A “starving artist” mindset can really set you back. You may feel, consciously or unconsciously, that you don’t really deserve to be successful. Perhaps someone once said, “You can’t make a living as an artist.” Or you feel you should suffer for your art.

If you completely buy into the starving artist myth, it can easily become your reality. You may feel insecure and apologize for your work, and consequently underprice your art or craft. This becomes depressing when you realize you are making virtually nothing for your time – and the idea of being in business as an artist seems futile and unreachable.

One reason artists develop this mindset is that they don’t have a feeling of being in control. They may have a day job which is structured, but when it comes to their own business, they lack the organizational skills to create business systems and become entrepreneurs.

It can be lonely out there, too. When you work in a studio by yourself, you can lose perspective. How good is your work? How much should you charge? How do you compare to others in the marketplace? Will anyone buy your work?

Rather than work in isolation, continuing to harbor doubts about your work and yourself as an artist, engage and connect with others. Arts communities can be welcoming and supportive places to help gain a better perspective. Plus, as artists, we actually need each other (have you ever seen an art or craft show without lots of artists participating?)

Your artistic community will be one source of support for you. Business mentors can be another. Speak to others who have real-life experience about developing your work into a cohesive collection, pricing it for profit, and entering the right market for your work. When this is done, it is easier to get some traction with sales or wholesale orders. Once you break the ice and experience some success, you have received feedback and validation that your work is saleable.

Your work has value, and you have value as an artist. Educate yourself about sound business practices and approach producing and selling art as an entrepreneur, not as a wannabe. Once you have tools to start making a success of your business, you will be able to put the destructive mindset of scarcity behind, and come from a place of abundance.

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  1. You left out one important aspect of the starving artist mentality…When the artist actually has little to no money…Although it would be near impossible to really starve the cliche seems more real and honest…

    • Although it’s true that an artist might have little money, they don’t have to live in a mindset where they feel they don’t deserve it. There are definite, and proven ways to grow your business.

  2. i am really taking your words to heart…thanks!! sometimes i can be my own worse enemy!!

  3. I agree. I think a big part of the limits are self-imposed at times. But the reality is that there are more and more painters and artists out there as well and you have to look at the law of supply and law of demand.

    People like to say that there’s a lot of poor quality art out there. Some of that may be true. But there’s a phenomenal amount of art that is being created that is more than acceptable in terms of quality.

    One thing I’ve always wanted to see is a comprehensive survey of income. Not the Jack White “I made a million dollars” selling my art. But a comprehensive fact-based survey of incomes derived from art.

    My wife and I lived in Scottsdale area for about four years. The sheer number of artists was amazing, as was their lifestyle. Yet in many ways, most of those artists with multi-million dollar Carefree/Cave Creek studios had wives or husbands who were the real source of the funding for that appearance of wealth in their spouse artist.

    I do completely agree with you that your mindset can destroy any hope you have before you get started. But like I said, the reality is that there’s so much pretty darn good art out there, and the supply is very high making it highly competitive today and very difficult to make a living.

    • Great insights, Robert – and supply/demand is very important. There are a few surveys out there for both fine artists and craft artists, but nothing very recent that I have seen.

      It is a challenge to make a good living as an artist as you have stated – and very competitive. And of course artists with a “starving” mentality handicap themselves before they even have a chance.

  4. Wendy,
    Loved your post on Starving Artist Syndrome, most of it hit home for me how we often get in this mindset, from my early years that is all I would hear family tell me, art is a fun hobby but that is all that it can ever be is a hobby, people in the real world do not make a living from doing art.
    So I don’t think I am alone in this area, I think most artist probably have family backing of this nature (Unfortunately)
    Now for me and my art I am person that loves sharing, explaining and telling others my process, talking with people at shows, and love talking with other artists. However when it come to working in my studio i embrace the quietness, peace, solitude and quiet contemplation that brings me the visions of my art work. I look forward to every moment alone in my studio to focus and concentrate on new designs that appear in my mind and make them a reality. I know this is probably not the norm at all but it is just the way I am.
    Love this site and all the insight it gives me as an artist, and the encouragement to continue on thru difficult times. ! Thank you so much for being there for all of us Wendy!

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