Stop Saying, “Starving Artist.”

Changing the way we think about the livelihood of working artists in our community.

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Ever since I was in grade school, peers would praise my drawing skills. But, they often followed up this praise with a comment like, “Eat lots of burgers now, so you won’t mind being a starving artist when you grow up! ”

Have you, Dear Reader, ever:
Made a similar comment?
Told a friend working in the arts that they’re lucky they don’t have a “real job”?
Told your child to pursue something more “practical”?
Assumed your creative friend would be happy to design a complimentary logo for your new business, because they
love making art?

If the answer to any of these is Yes, then you are part of a harmful societal attitude that could be making the Starving Artist myth a reality.

Now, more than ever, we need creative thinkers. We need designers to make our environments and products more accessible, more understandable, more beautiful, more sustainable. We need brilliant filmmakers who will shine a light on the under-served, the under-represented. We need recording artists and composers who can bring more of the world’s citizens together through the universal language of music.

But these artists need, and deserve, to make a good living. After all, they improve the quality of all of our lives on a daily basis. What is it we list, when asked about our personal favorites? Movies, games, songs, foods (they don’t call it ‘Culinary Arts’ for nothing!). The skilled artists who created these experiences that have enriched our lives should be paid accordingly (and on time).

But artists, and the arts, continue to struggle in a world that prioritizes hard data over soft data, profits over progress, and quantity over quality. We place importance on STEM in schools, but STEAM is the way forward. We allocate ample budget for web hosting and SEO, but haggle with the web designer. We want the illustrations for the theatre’s season posters to cost less than a couple of tickets to the plays, themselves. Logo design and branding are a last-minute consideration for a restaurant, after all the money has been spent on kitchen appliances and remodeling.

Art is work, as Milton Glaser famously wrote in his book of the same title. And this work is done by trained professionals with unique, valuable skillsets. While there are numerous reasons for why many artists have seen their fees remain flat or decline over the past few decades, there are a few things we all can do to ensure artists can flourish and continue to bring color, inventive ideas, and beauty to our world:

  1. Drop the ‘starving artist’ expression. Many thousands of artists are out there hustling, making a good living, paying taxes, and all while making the world a better place. When a child hears this line, it discourages them from continuing to pursue the creative form of expression they love — music, drawing, dancing, etc.

Art is a part of everything we enjoy in our lives. Architects have built the structures in which we love spending time, painters have created the images that linger in our memories, and songwriters have brought us to tears with a few chords. All of these artists have the same life expenses as the rest of us, and for their wonderful contributions to our lives, they deserve to be paid to make their work. Let us all do what we can to ensure their numbers grow.

Written by

Adobe Design Team. Artist for The New Yorker, TIME, NY Times, etc. Creator of those Photoshop brushes you like.

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