Saturday, March 09, 2013

Feed starving artists

I was at an amazing author event today. So much fun! And as the author was doing a Q & A, she was asked the always asked question of advice for young writers. Sometimes this is phrased as advice for aspiring authors or new writers, but I like young writers. Not as a reference to age—as the person who posed the question meant it—but young as in unseasoned and wide-eyed and hopeful. It's a mindset that has nothing to do with age.

Paraphrasing: The author mentioned how certain aspects of the author lifestyle gets idolized in ways that may not be healthy. I don't know what the author meant, so what I'm about to comment on may not have anything to do with what the author intended. (Thus why I'm not naming her.) I infer that the author advised this young writer to enjoy writing and to enjoy living.

I don't believe the author was talking about writing being fun versus being thematic. It was a comment on the self-destructive elements of being a writer that too often get romanticized. She lost me when she sounded like she meant alcoholism and depression, because it's an oversimplification to imply these are lifestyle choices connected to professions.

What I don't like people romanticizing is the archetype of the starving artiste.

The starving artist archetype undermines the value of creative work. Most creative professional are over-extended and lower on the wage scale, because there is a lack of value attributed to creative work. (Translation: On average, we work harder and longer to make less money.) When society romanticizes the starving artist, we're internalizing that the arts shouldn't be profitable. That it is ok for members of our society not to be able to meet their needs because they supposedly enjoy what they do for a living more than the rest of us.

We should not have to decide between health benefits and doing the thing that makes us feel alive. But many of us do. Hopefully, we're choose with an awareness of the potential impact. But I don't think many of us are considering the practicalities of regular dental check-ups when we're dreaming of fulltime creative careers.

We're told to treat creative work delicately because it's special and magic. Joy is special and magic. Believing what you do to be meaningful and fulfilling is special and magic. These are not things that exist only for people doing creative work, and they are not trade-offs for choosing to have an unconventional career.

It's like saying to a small business owner that it's ok to be on the verge of bankruptcy because at least they're their own boss.

I've struggled and I've had to watch so many of my friends and colleagues in various creative fields struggle. When you're young and the Vow of Bohemian Poverty is this romantic dream you've been fed and so many people tell you to just keep eating it... There's gotta be a balance. I'm not suggesting we kill the dreams of the hopeful young artist, but could we stop the disservice of treating them like they won't understand the realities of art as your job?

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