The Care and Feeding of a Starving Artist

3 10 2011

I remember the days of truly being a starving artist. I hope they’re behind me for good. And despite the fact that I no longer consider myself a member of this group (perhaps prematurely… who knows what the economy will do tomorrow…!) the stereotype “starving artist” lives on.

It came to my attention recently that not everyone has experienced close-up and personal contact with a struggling artist, so I would like to take this opportunity to help. The following tips and tactics should assist you in the care and feeding of your local starving artist.

Save the Fancy China for Someone Else.
In the year or two when things were the tightest financially (aka before my art took off) I received a few birthday gifts from friends or family members in the form of beautiful (and expensive) knick-knacky type things. They weren’t heirlooms – in my opinion, heirlooms are things you keep even if you’re living in a box under a bridge. These were new and pretty things – like a Limoges serving bowl, or a leaded crystal vase by Waterford. Beautiful? Yes. Something I could pay rent with or put in my tummy? Not unless I sold the beautiful thus-and-such on ebay. (Which I admit, I did on one or two occasions.)

The Cupboard of Old Mother Hubbard If you don’t know who Old Mother Hubbard is, click here. When I was in the height on my starving artist days (emphasis on starving) I felt like I had no right to ask for help from my family or friends because I was the one choosing to try and do my art as my job, and in my mind, as long as I was choosing it, I was responsible for the state of my bare cupboards. I think several people in my family read between the lines. My dad would bring random foodstuffs when he’d come to visit that to this day he swears he bought in bulk. (He lives alone.) My aunt gave me a couple of bags of groceries for Christmas one year, and the stuff in there saw me through a February in a drafty apartment when the gas bill ate my entire budget. (Lest you imagine that I was whooping it up and living in the lap of 70˚ luxury, know that I was actually keeping the thermostat at 58˚ to save money, but it didn’t help. My gas bill was over $200 that month alone.)

See a Need, Fill a Need
That quote is from the movie “Robots“, and it’s more than applicable here. I go to great pains to distinguish a “need” from a “want”… and I wish more people would make a habit of doing so. It seems that there is no real differentiation between the two in many people’s minds. There is a huge difference in my mind, maybe because I’ve been there and done that. I define a want as anything beyond food, clothing, a place to live, time to do art, and a way to get around if you live in a rural area. During my time as a starving artist, there were a ton of people who saw something I needed, and simply provided it. My sister sent care packages filled with chocolate (I’m a chocoholic) and gift cards to Target so I could go buy anything I needed – from laundry detergent to toilet paper to groceries. My friends J and M, who shall remain nameless for reasons of security, let me stay in a place they owned that was not zoned for “residential use” when I was homeless for two weeks and had no place local to my studio to kip in, so that I wouldn’t miss two weeks of working in my studio. The list goes on and on.

These days I try to pay it forward, to put karma points in the mystic piggy bank, and to keep in mind that “what goes around, comes around.” So the next time you run into a starving artist, do a good deed for the day: Pay for lunch, and realize that their offer to pay the tip is probably the entirety of whatever currency is residing in their wallet on any given day.

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