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Business, Cultural/Social

The Death of the Starving Artist

Dave Chow Starving_Artist

Wikipedia, the Super Site of Need to Know, defines the starving artist as someone who has given up the comfort and luxuries of material gain for the sake of their craft. The term has been around for ages, attaching itself to many of the world’s artistic geniuses.  Seemingly, it applied to painters and sculptors; individuals who needed to be free at all times because it is nearly impossible to put creative vision on a schedule.  I suppose it didn’t extend to writers, singers, and musicians because given the history of the art forms, many of these individuals were not always broke.

For instance, writers, at one point in time, were known as scribes.  In many cultures, scribes held rank with priests and other dignitaries, largely because reading and writing were regarded as privileges.  Their chief responsibilities included documenting historical events as well as preparing decrees and other royal ordinances.  Musicians and singers were also part of the royal court; on hand to perform during feasts and  ceremonies.  While I can’t quote a definite source, I strongly believe that painters were the original starving artists because they had to be commissioned by someone to do a special piece of art or had to await an opportunity to exhibit their works for sale, which were notoriously sparse.

Now, the starving artist label has expanded to include anyone who does anything with an artistic flair, especially if they live in the good ole United States; the capitalistic empire of this age.  Let’s face it, the only thing that creativity and capitalism have in common is that they both start with the letter ‘C’.  If it can’t be priced, manufactured, and marketed to the masses, then this economic system doesn’t want anything to do with it.  This is a country where platinum selling recording artists file for bankruptcy and/or have to face tax evasion charges.  Arts budgets are being slashed in every area where they can be found, especially in schools.  Apparently, some kook reasoned that one of the least effective ways to develop a society of well-rounded individuals is teaching the violin—but performance based testing is the ‘sure-fire’ method of transforming your children into robots with pulses, my bad, ahem….’more competitive workers for the global economy’.  Who was that mastermind?

Oh.  Never mind.  I remember now.  As always, I digress.  I guess I have too much to say.


writerTake a look at the picture to the right.  I’m certain that if I were to write for a living during these times, that would be my instrument; worn out, outdated, and counter productive.  Shhh! Don’t tell anybody, but I still hold down a 9 to 5.  To me, I’m in an adulterous union with Corporate America.  I’m cheating on my pen.  Blame it on my weakness; I actually like to eat…and don’t you think it would be rather hard to write in the dark or on some dimly lit street corner inside of a cardboard box? I do.  Of course, I realize that every writer’s game plan is to find a job  so they can remain focused on the art of writing.  Well, that would be great and perhaps I should get a few really great writing samples together and a contact list of editors at magazines and newspapers….oh wait, they’re going out of business.  Ok, let’s see.

I could write a banging, super sleek manuscript and shop it to major book publishers.  No. Wait.  What in the hell do they know about Black literature? Nah.  Oh! I got it! Since I have a business degree and corporate experience, why don’t I just start a company? Yes!!!! That’s it! I’ll start a company that will not only publish my books, but other people’s books too! With the help of the internet, it’s much easier to get a book published, reach my audience and sell my books.  After I decide the price of the book, I could even offer the books in various formats: audio, e-book, Kindle.  Through  the use of social media, I could start a Facebook fan page, start virtual reading groups and host special events to promote the books.   I can develop all kinds of strategies that will incorporate an integrated platform, using both traditional and non traditional media vehicles.  The case of the starving artist is solved.  At least, for me, it is.


As for others, that’s my word of encouragement.  We, as artistic professionals, live in an era where creativity and capitalism has to be introduced to each other.  You owe it to yourself as an artist to control your gift and to profit from it.  This means that you must be as much of a business person as an artist.  Modern technology has granted us more resources than previous generations of artists.   So, use them to your advantage.   Given the current state of the music industry, any artist that’s still shopping demos must have been asleep for the past few years.  I’m still waiting on this barrage of musical artists to jump start digital labels that will officially put big boys out of business.

I’m not saying anything new.  The purpose of this post is to simply exist in the internet stratosphere, hovering about aimlessly while some poor disgruntled artists are surfing the web, trying to get their minds off their hungry bellies and/or those  lame ass jobs where they are underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked.  Hey, even if they don’t feel like reading the whole thing, all they got to do is internalize the message above….and just keep it moving.


About Chandra Kamaria

Chandra Kamaria is a playwright, essayist, culture maven, educator, entrepreneur, and activist. To learn more, visit


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