How I Went From Bankrupt, Starving Artist to Merely Starving in Nine Years

A Satirical Jeremiad — Day 73

Angst by Liran Szeiman • ArtStation

What writer has not known the angst of choosing between popularity and the purity of the written word? Writing for the lumpenproletariat or moodily telling them to go poke themselves in the eyes with rusty spoons? I don’t want to need an audience — I write for the want of the sake of it. I don’t want to need your approval; I want to need only mine.

Ah, yes, the snooty artist. One might picture him in a grungy dive coffeehouse in a gentrifying industrial neighborhood, moodily sipping espresso, wiping latte foam from a wispy moustache and sighing loudly over the proper spelling of moustache, tapping a freshly sharpened Staedtler Mars Lumograph on a blank pad of paper, willing the ephemeral brilliance of the universe to channel itself through his neurons. Thoughts of blazing up a vape pen arouse within him a great joie de vivre; if only the decaying, rusted shackles of society wouldn’t keep him from going about his business right here in this dim room — devoid of electrical outlets — he might get some goddamn inspiration and become the next Ernest Feckin’ Hemingway.

When an artist decides what to name his piece, must he sell out only in the beginning, or is it always this way? Listicles get views, and — after all — the point is to get eyeballs on your work, isn’t it? To share with the oblivious hordes of humanity your breathtaking exceptionalism, your uncanny and unique ability to bend the written word to your will, to make adverbs dance like dervishes across the page, to imprint upon the retinas of your readers and in the very stitches of their souls the monumental unbelievability of your singular brilliance? Is it not true, thou tortured soul?

The conflict arises because we crave validation. What point is there in creating art if there is no one to see it? If we do it merely for the sake of it — for the art of it — there should be no added reward for pressing it onto the eyeballs of our fellows.

But we are not wired that way. Sharing is caring. Sharing is happiness.

How I Went From Bankrupt, Starving Artist to Merely Starving in Nine Years is catchy, is it not, and autobiographical for a great many artists who stubbornly hung on, waiting for the Big Break, refusing to compromise the integrity of their work or to — bane of all banes — do the art for the money. Or the eyeballs. Or the fame. Or that great swelling of dopamine that floods the brain when that green circle lights up.

It would make a great title, if it weren’t true. People don’t want truth — no, they’re too impatient for truth. They want things that make them gasp, or go ahhh as they might do at a fireworks show or the dentist.

At what point does the artist compromise, adjusting the lengths of his sentences, the density of his paragraphs, the verbiage of his prose, or the titles of his stories, to accommodate the harried peoples whose attention he desperately hopes to not want to hope to capture? Is it at once or is it never or is it somewhere in between, where the hated answer “it depends” lives and preys on those who seek firm truth?

I haven’t a clue about any of it. For my part, I will continue to write — often badly — and hope that I don’t hope that people will like it, because, deep down, I don’t want to want them to, I simply want to write.

Even if I don’t always know why.

This is but a small piece of my lifelong daily writing practice. If you enjoyed this, you may also like some of my other writing, which includes short fiction, novel excerpts, and other essays.