The Well-Fed Artist
The life of a starving artist undeniably carries a certain air of romanticism - dedicating every second of every day to honing one's craft and never bound by a mundane workweek routine. But unless you are the fortunate few with a hidden vault of overflowing gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, the reality of a starving artist is far less romantic. It would consist of far less whimsy, and much more worry and self-doubt.
Growing up, I dreamed of living in the confines of a dingy, old apartment somewhere in New York City, waking up early to walk to my favorite local coffee shop to grab my usual cup on the go, and catch a train to nowhere - just for the sake of it. Warming up my coffee with a pair of shabby rainbow gloves, wistfully looking out the window at nothing but the dark tunnel and a chewed up piece of gum on the railing, sitting next to an impatient white-collared yuppie tapping at his timepiece and a sweet, old woman in a periwinkle hat reading the morning paper. I would sit and just wonder of the lives of those who surround me. Where were they going? What do they go home to? The clunks and clanks of the subway would be my lullaby of everyday. How I longed to live life as if the inspiration for the next great American novel was lurking around every street corner, or in the eyes of an unaware stranger.
And then once I grew up, I quickly realized I hated the city. I'm way too germaphobic for subways. The sound of heavy machinery spikes my anxiety. And too much caffeine in the morning makes my digestive system beg for mercy. Coupled with the fact I needed to make money or willfully choose to be homeless, certain adjustments needed to be made.
The term "starving artist" originated from the Bohemian era where artists sacrificed material comfort for their craft. They chose a life of poverty in order to suffer for their art. Along with this notion, there has been a long held belief the only type of "meaningful" art is the kind that is wrought into the world by the hands of a martyr. Examples that come to mind is Khalil Gibran who barely left his tiny loft just to paint and write all day, Jerzy Grotowski's concept of "Poor Theatre", or Van Gogh ripping off his own ear - artists have often lived on the outskirts of society. We have been denied of proper burials and looked upon as the useless, dispensable members of society. And by all means, the cause to bleed for one's craft is certainly noble. It takes a certain tenacity to not give way to the beck and call of financial demands, but what if the artist was well-fed? What if the artist ate a healthy, balanced breakfast and went about their day without the need to suffer for what they love and do best? Words hold power, even if they are meant to be metaphorical. How would it change our societal perception if we referred to our artists as well-fed?
Like most people graduating college, I had no concrete plan. Life after art school can be daunting for some, especially those with bruises to their ego, and the ever so familiar feeling of always masquerading and parading around like some kind of fraud. Being woefully underprepared shouldn't be a recipe for failure. In fact, learning to embrace failure is an art form in and of itself. Or you can just call it quits and become a sell-out like me. Kidding. I've been on what you call... a hiatus. I've enjoyed the company of my friends and celebrating their accomplishments and milestones. Enjoying and learning from the work of others is a rare gift. I've kept myself fed on the friendships I've made, knowing that theatre and storytelling is not always about the performance but the stories that carry on after the curtain closes. My favorite has always been the conversations that spill into the parking lot after a show or movie, dissecting the motivations or meanings behind certain scenes. On those nights, I would certainly go to bed full.
Even if you cannot bring yourself to create art, if you feel no inspiration, a choice you can make is to support the work of another - and through this act the artist can keep themselves fed. On the other hand, if every penny you earn goes back into reinvesting in your craft and you choose to supplement your income with a simple day job, it does not make you any less of an artist. You can choose to share your energy and your light with new people in a new space that otherwise would never know the power of your presence. The art of life lies within its dynamic circumstances, it's vital to share your well-fed perspective in every job or situation. This is our duty as an artist, to make an impact in order to enrich the world around us.
By my definition, the only starving artist is the person who makes their world smaller and advances their agenda for their own selfish, egotistical gains.
And I'll let you in on a little secret, it's not always those who dedicate themselves to their art who are literally starved - the majority of the working world is starved. We are starved for touch, and starved to be seen and heard. Because this is a society where in everyday conversation we barely lift our heads from a screen to look at the other person in the eyes. If we are giving our full attention, we are just waiting for our turn to speak. Acting classes and scene work strip us of these terrible habits, not everyone has had the opportunity to be aware of this. Look people in the eyes, offer your best self, and watch how the world around you will flourish. You don't need to go to New York City to find that spice of life. There is so much beauty hidden within the ordinary. There is a galaxy inside of you waiting to be filled.