Independent Artists Filmmakers

The New, Not-So-Starving Artists

The Starving Artist…the old stereotype, brought to life by tales of French painters who died penniless for their art, only for their work to become famous posthumously.  That’s what I think of when I hear the term “starving artist.”  Someone who is struggling to pursue their dream of creating, but sacrificing him- or herself in the process.  But the new up-and-coming creative class is not so struggling, and not so starving.

The Creative Class, which is a concept and phenomenon researched by social scientist Richard Florida, is growing category of workers whose livelihood is based on creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.  They cut across many industries, but are especially employed in the technology, education, business, and entertainment sectors, as well as the traditional arts.

There is a certain agency that is felt by seeing oneself as part of the creative class – a valid sector of the economy (not that we need to be validated by “the man”).  We are contributing to and even growing the economy at large.  We are also democratizing the business world.  Instead of the traditional pyramid shape of most businesses and corporations, many of us are self-employed entrepreneurs and freelancers.  We are creating our own jobs and widening the playing field in the process.

Jon Acuff is a blogger and author I follow, who writes extensively about taking charge of your work life.   In one of his recent blogs he said, “We don’t need you to fit into the system. The system is full. We need people brave enough to escape the system and show all of us it can be done” (

Jon makes a great point about working outside the system, and for many of us, that’s where we thrive.  But there are also creative occupations opening within traditional structures, such as education and business.  I’ve had the opportunity to work at two different universities, holding part-time and full-time jobs that involved writing, video production and editing, and marketing.  While I didn’t quite have the flexibility and control that comes from being self-employed, I still got to use – and grow – my skills and training.  “The Man” isn’t all that bad.

My goal in writing this is to breakdown the stereotype of the “starving artist.”  It’s an outdated, romanticized notion, and it’s an image that discourages many people from pursuing their passions.  The fact is, there’s money to be made in this creativity game.  One must be creative, bold, and prudent when trying to make their livelihood from their creativity and knowledge.

Not that I’m an expert, but here are 6 things I’ve observed from friends who are doing quite well at this whole Creative Class thing..

1. Know what your skills are worth.

There are metrics out there that can tell you what someone in your occupation makes, and this can often vary by the region you live in.  For freelancers starting out, you may have to undercut what you charge to get gigs, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience.  But there’s always room for growth.

2. Learn how to market yourself.

There are tons of free or low-cost platforms out there that can help you get your brand out there.  Figure out how you want to present yourself (or your business), and keep that brand message consistent across all platforms.

3. Spend time around other creatives.

I know a husband and wife couple who host a weekly group for creatives, meant to encourage and inspire each other, as well as give people a helpful space to workshop their ideas.  I think this is awesome!

4. Be prudent if you decide to make the transition from regular employment to working for yourself.

Starting a business, a new career, or heck, even a blog, takes hard work and careful planning.  If you’re a praying person, definitely seek God in this.  It is a major decision to branch off on your own, especially if it means leaving the safety and security of a full-time job with benefits.  But I also don’t think it has to be a black-and-white, cold-turkey kind of decision. The transition can be gradual.

5. Being a creative is a full-time job.

While working in a corporate setting, my thought is always that I have two jobs: one is the job I take home a paycheck for every month and work at 9am-6pm Monday-Friday, and the other is the full-time job of being a creative.  Outside of my traditional job, I am taking production and editing gigs on the side, working on writing projects, blogging, and making contacts in the industry.  I’m not putting the creative side of me on hold.  I encourage that neither should you.  I am super-inspired by people out there who have way more responsibilities than I do, who are still pursuing – and achieving – their creative dreams.

6. Work smarter, not harder.

Wow, there’s so much we could say here.  Natural talent isn’t everything.  Sheer will and discipline are just as important as talent.  In some future posts I’m going to write about productivity and organization, and specifically why this is so important for us as creatives.  We all have it in us to pull out our best work and use our time wisely.  Say NO to writers block!

I must say, I don’t think I’d be where I am, or even thinking about these things this way, if it weren’t for the encouragement my parents gave me when it came to pursuing a creative career.  They both work in the broadcasting industry, so they were very sympathetic to my career choices!   They’ve been involved in many of my projects, giving feedback,  ideas, and even a helpful share of constructive criticism.

I love what Mindy Kaling said about confidence: “I have a personality defect where I sort of refuse to see myself as an underdog… It’s because of my parents. They raised me with the entitlement of a tall, blond, white man.”  While I’m not sure I was raised with a sense of entitlement, I was raised with the confidence that I can accomplish anything I wanted.

And so can you.

This article first appeared on

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