Thursday, March 24, 2011

Starving Artist Epidemic

What is a starving artist? A starving artist is an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects. (

The more important question is why does that title even exist? Do we really have to be "starving" artist? Why not "fed, but could use a little more" artist or "watching what I eat" artist. Starving by definition means "in the process of perishing or suffering severely from...". Ouch, I don't want to perish or suffer severely from something I love doing.

The more I get involved in the arts, the more I realize that starving artist are starving due to lack of knowledge or desire to gain the knowledge. Let me explain. I'm often asked the question by other artists or aspiring artist, "So what do you do for a living? Like what's your real job?". I pause for some thought, "Hmmmmm, do I take offense to the "real job" comment or do I realize that this person is just ignorant and needs some schooling?". Most times I decide to be wise and take them to school. Their mouths fall to the floor with disbelief, like there is no way possible to make a living in the arts. Let me say that I have successfully been living on my own with no roommate, right outside of Manhattan, for over a year and a half. Even with a few financial hiccups I've managed to enjoy most of the lifestyle I desire. I'd consider that making a living in the arts, wouldn't you? I think it comes down to simple things that make a huge difference in your finances as an artist. After all, money is what artists are usually lacking when they give energy to this "Starving Artist Epidemic". So let's look at some examples of how I pinch pennies to avoid falling victim.

Example 1: The average artist lives in a borough outside of midtown Manhattan so either they're driving in which is an unnecessary expense i.e. parking fees or they take public transportation to get around. NYC metro offers a free transfer to either the train or bus in any direction within 2 hours of swiping your card from your initial ride. So I plan my day out and depending on time constraints I'll take the subway to my first appointment, walk to my second appointment and then swipe my card and take the scenic route on the bus back home or onto my next appointment. All for $2.25! Most of the castings are scheduled around the same time or you can request an appointment change if flexibility is an option. You can accomplish a lot in two hours if you're focused. I've seen fellow artists, take the subway to go 7 blocks instead of walking or swipe their card multiple times a day for the subway because they don't like the bus. I have no problem walking or taking the bus if it means I'll save a penny or three. Those metro cards can add up and the monthly unlimited is over $100...waste of money. I spend about $60 a month in metro fare. That difference of $40 is my utility bill.

Example 2: Manhattan has a Starbucks, McDonald's or a "mom and pop" coffee shop on every corner, literally. Set up your mobile office in a coffeshop and stop spending money to go back home. If I have a significant gap in my day I won't typically go back to my apartment and then return to the city. My neighbor calls it "double dipping". To avoid double dipping and spending a lot of extra cash, I'll pack a snack. Peanut butter crackers, cookies, fruit snacks, fresh fruit and almonds are my favorite. I set up shop with my cell, iPad, a good book, and grab a $2 tea from the spot. Most times I'll spend an hour submitting myself to new castings, being my own agent. So not only am I saving some money, I'm potentially making money in the process by self-submissions to castings. Of course, I realize that some folks say its easier to go home and eat instead. "I spend more money when I hang in the city", they say. My response: "Exercise some discipline with your wallet". If you don't have the money to spend then why are you spending it? We holler "Broke!" and then go buy a new bag or shoes. But if you exercise discipline the $4.50 you'd spend to take the subway home and back to the city could've gone towards a quick sandwich. I eat at Lenny's often and my preferred sandwich costs $5.44 with tax, so it is possible. I also prefer to hang in the city for those last minute castings you can get. Yall know when we get home we get lazy. I'm a hustler so I can't afford to turn down easy opportunities like an extra casting because of laziness. If I'm in the city, I'd rather stay focused and catch up on some blogging, reading, submissions, and scenery. I find a window seat and observe NYC's pedestrians, quite interesting actually.

OK let me wrap this up. Example 3 or Point 3: You are only a starving artist if you claim it. There are numerous websites that post the same castings that most agents send us to. As I stated earlier, you can do it yourself, so Why not? Some of the sites I use cost as little as $5 monthly to have an unlimited number of submissions to their postings. You can sacrifice that fancy Latte at Starbucks that you really cant afford anyway and submit yourself to jobs that pay well in excess of one months rent. No guarantee that you'll book it, but I believe you get back in life what you put out into the universe. So if its laziness and lack of motivation that you display to the universe then it's laziness you shall get back from the universe in giving you what you desire. Another area of frustration is that artist moan and cry about agency representation. This is 2011! If a light bulb doesn't go off at some point to say let me Google and see if I can find agencies or casting websites to get me more opportunities. We have an infinite amount of knowledge at our finger tips if we choose to seek it.

All I'm saying is make an effort to not be a starving artist before you give up and cry home about being a starving artist. I don't pretend to know it all but I do know what works for me. I refuse to perish and suffer for anything without a good go at it. I'm never starving but always hungry for more and that drives me to seek as many opportunities as the universe is willing to send me. Let's stop spreading this diseased mindset of starvation and get some food for thought. Ask around, surf the Internet, get creative with your pennies. The best antidote is knowledge against the Starving Artist Epidemic.

Stay tuned for a "Non-Starving Artist Trade Secrets" entry. It will include websites and tips for all the tools we need as artists but for way less than the popular resources charge.

I googled this article and it is a good quick read: "Can You Become a Non-Starving Artist?"

Peace yall!

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