Jeff Goins

A Review of Jeff Goins’ “Real Artists Don’t Starve”

How Not to Starve

“Real Artists Don’t Starve” Book Cover

Are you a painter, a writer, a start-up founder or a cabinet maker? Wondering how to avoid not paying the rent while you pursue your craft? Well, that’s where Jeff Goins’ Real Artists Don’t Starve comes in. The book offers 12 strategies to create your art, promote your art and make money from your art — no matter what it may be. Though published from a Christian-themed publisher, this is a remarkably secular book that creatives of all stripes should enjoy. While the book seems, at times, to be loaded with common sense, the book does a fine job of pointing the neophyte artist towards being successful. That alone is worth the price of admission.

To go into any depth about this book would be to start revealing some of the book’s strategies, so you may want to just skip this review and proceed to the book itself. It’s clear, though, that Goins has done his homework, offering up examples of his theories from interviews he conducted to books he read. The book is so thorough that the sources section of the book, in the very back, takes up more than 12 percent of the book’s total running length, according to my Kindle. (I read a digital version of the book.)

While Real Artists Don’t Starve is engrossing and interesting, it is relatively brief. I read the whole thing cover to cover in about two hours. And it fired me up, too. I’ve had a career as an artist, but I abandoned it after failing to sell a short story collection. After reading this book, I wanted to get back at it, back at creating art. The book is powerful and encouraging, to say the least. However, it’s also realist. While the book doesn’t fall back on the “don’t quit your day job” comments that some in your circle may give you, the book does suggest multiple times that having a successful day job gives you the financial stability to create art in your free time until your art starts generating significant revenue.

What makes the book pretty powerful stuff is that Goins augments every recommendation he gives to the struggling artist with examples culled from real life — not only big, well-known players such as Hemmingway and Picasso, but smaller, less heard-of actors and musicians who are pursuing their craft largely on their own terms. It’s these examples that make the book feel real and purposeful, and allows the book to be a whole lot of fun to read, too.

That said, I didn’t always agree with some of Goins’ strategies. For instance, he recommends moving to where the action is — or, failing that, finding a place to create your own action. While I agree with that in principle, I also know of at least one major author with a publishing deal who works from a sleepy, small town with not a whole lot going on. In fact, creating art in a place where not much art is happening can do wonders for your artistic career, as it gives you the time and freedom to pursue your craft in your own time, rather than spending your time marketing and promoting something you haven’t yet created to your peers.

For that reason, you may want to look at Goins’ strategies as recommendations and not much more, and find ways to make them work for you. For example, the end goal might not be to make money off your art at all. In my case, I’ve chosen to work with smaller magazines that don’t pay money because they’re more receptive to the kinds of innovation I’m doing with my writing. The big guys just don’t want to touch it because it’s simply too weird for them. So everything Goins says about making money from your art should be taken with a huge grain of salt. That said, there are probably ways I could be making money by, say, charging readers for these reviews or something. Or trying my hand at cartoon art (if I was any good at it) to augment these posts to have something else to sell.

Despite any reservations I have with this book suggesting that it is the true way to pursue your craft, it’s still a worthy read, simply because Goins has such an infectious “can do” attitude about everything. Once again, if you’ve thought about creating art — or, if like me, created art and then abandoned it — reading Real Artists Don’t Starve will encourage you to pick up a pen or a paintbrush (or whatever tool you use) and continue to while away. I loved, most of all, Goins’ suggestions on how to make art, such as by openly stealing from your influences (which is a practice I subscribe to).

I don’t know what else to say, really, beyond all this that is going to sound like running at the mouth. Suffice to say, if you’re toiling away creating art — or are thinking about switching over to a career in the arts, if you’re passionate enough about it — you’ll find a lot of nuggets of wisdom in this book. I’d say that you should pick and choose which strategies are most applicable to you in this New Renaissance we’re in (a term that Goins uses frequently) and run with them. If anything, I like that Goins is trying to be helpful to the often frustrated self-tortured artist, and makes us all aware that there is an alternative — that struggling to make ends meet is not the true way to succeed as an artist. If you’re looking for examples and methods to sustain yourself with your art financially, this book is an excellent investment of both your money and your time.

Jeff Goins’ Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age was published by Thomas Nelson on June 6, 2017.

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