Here’s How You Can Avoid Being a Starving Artist


Life in the arts is no cakewalk.

Even if you’re able to find critical success as an actor, painter, writer, filmmaker, or whatever it is you want to do, “success” might not actually amount to a living wage. The classic image of the “starving artist” isn’t just a romanticized notion.

You’ve got to admire starving artists for their willingness to sacrifice financial comfort for their passion. But here’s the truth: you can be a hardworking artist and also make a comfortable living while you’re perfecting your craft and building a large body of work. Here are 5 ways in which you can avoid being a starving artist while still being able to use your creative skills.

1. Use Your Creative Skills in the Private Sector

There are so many different ways in which you can use your skills in the private sector—and the private sector is often more financially lucrative than the public arts industries. Here are a few private sector career paths for certain arts professions:

  • Artist: If you’re a painter or an illustrator, you might be able to find work doing graphic design or concept art.
  • Actor: Actors can find regular work as tour guides or they can use their natural energy for sales-related positions.
  • Writer: Aspiring writers often find work as copywriters or editors (if you don’t have the time for a full-time job, get freelance work on a freelancing website).
  • Musician: Musicians can work as DJs, and they can also work in the sound technician fields.

You can use your knowledge of your particular art field to find work on the business side of things. If you’re a filmmaker, you might be able to find work at a production company. Writers can find work at publishing houses, and musicians can find work at music production studios. What’s great about working on the business-end of the arts is that you’ll have a regular paycheck, and you might be able to make valuable professional connections that can help your further your creative career.

2. Be a Professional Gamer

Video games are arguably the newest art form to have gained widespread popularity. If you want to design video games, you’ll definitely be able to work your way up the ladder by taking lower-level jobs as a game developer. But the video game industry is difficult because artists are routinely hired for large video game projects, and then laid off when the video game is completed.

But there’s a way you can make some extra money while you’re in between jobs. If you want to make video games, there’s a good chance that you play lots of video games, and thus, that you’re pretty darn good at them. If you’ve got the skills for online competition, you can be a professional gamer and enter gaming tournaments. Pro gamers have won tens of thousands of dollars by winning major game tournaments.

And who better to enter the fray than someone who’s knowledgeable in map design and who’s got great muscle memory with a game controller? Not a bad way to pay your bills while you’re waiting to design the next Kingdom Hearts III or Assassin’s Creed.

3. Use Your Skills to Boost Your Confidence

Working in the arts can give you a higher level of confidence that could prove beneficial in a professional career. If you’re an artist, then you’ve likely:

  • Figured out what attributes make you unique
  • Developed thick skin
  • Learned the value of hard work and long hours
  • Learned to be opinionated and assertive

These are incredibly important skills for the business world. In fact, numerous actors attest that you can use these qualities to boost your performance in job interviews.

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Some artists think that a landing a teaching job is the equivalent of failure (which is completely ridiculous, and shows how little our country values education). Teaching your craft, whether that be as a high school, college, or vocational school educator, is a great way to stay engaged with a subject you’re passionate about, and you’ll also have the opportunity to inspire creativity in young people.

Some artists dream about landing a residency or educator role at a university, in hopes of securing a career of scholarly study on their craft (what a life). If you enjoy sharing your passion with others, consider getting your teaching credentials.

Don’t let teaching scare you. Remember, Stephen King worked as a high school teacher before he published Carrie.

5. Be a Collector

If you’re a painter or sculptor, you probably have sharper creativity sensibilities than most people. You can use your knowledge and foresight to become an art collector or work as a consultant for a collector, museum, or gallery. Working as an art collector could be lucrative. Find an emerging talent and buy their art for cheap, then wait a few years and sell it for more. It’s like investing in the stock market, but more fun.

It’s going to take a few years (or much more) to turn your hobby into a dream job. Until then, don’t let yourself starve. It’s always better to be a “in-a-snacking-mood” artist.

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