Starving Artists

Some old crusty bread, too hard to eat or for the birds to peck through, but to an artist, it becomes a palette for paint. Barely enough for a cup of old, stale and cold coffee, all of this which serves not for nutrition, but to keep an artist alert through the long ordeal of the imaginative process. Why is it so often dark here? Why is such a group whose end products should equate to prosperity and abundance for many, are themselves often the most destitute and among the poorest of the poor? Why do artists starve?

First, we need to define for clarity, exactly what is meant by “artists?” An artist is anyone that has developed any skill within the field of the ‘ARTS.’ It may be poetry, photography, painting, acting, dance and the list may well be endless. At some point in the mind, a conscious decision is made by the individual to pursue this field. It is no different than deciding to join the military, to become a teacher, a doctor or any endeavor. Something happens inside the mind, a connection is made, the light bulb of understanding is turned on, there is perhaps something profound which inspires, but what ever the cause is, we just “get it,” and the decision is made.

Next we need to understand that all of humanity is designed and normally possess a twin brain. There are two hemispheres to this amazing brain and each has specific functions unique to itself. Most of us are familiar with the terms, ‘right-brain and ‘left-brain.’ We know also what is meant when hearing, seeing or speaking the phrase, “out of the mind.” Old English (King James Bible and Shakespeare), use the phrase “beside themselves,” which in the vernacular or common language of today, we would say someone is insane, crazy, “nuts”, “batty” and other slang terms may come to mind. Now I am certainly NOT referring to artists as being crazy, but I am trying to show a difference between the functions of the left and right brains. Although scholars and experts disagree on which hemisphere controls or holds which functions, they do agree that the two exist and each have separate and/or unique functions. Verbal skill is dominated for simplicity, in the left side of the brain as is analytical skill. The right-brain controls functions such as the imagination or creative/emotional processes. Whether by birth, environment, habit or personal choice, each of us is predominately either left or right-brain oriented.

Artists often are generally predisposed to and usually prefer right-brain matters over the left brain. As such, verbal skill and communication may be lacking, which is necessary when it comes to selling or marketing ones work. Social skills as a whole are often lacking in artists for the same reasons. We may think of them as reclusive or social outcasts, weird or even nerds. A nerd by the way is still the richest person in the world. To illustrate a point, a great work was written entitled, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” by Betty Edwards. Left-brain people often get frustrated in trying to draw something realistic looking, because they are using the left brain to draw. An artist does NOT see an object as something real, but often as unreal or just bits and pieces of some abstract design. Within this right-brain mind, it is like a dream world or something not quite real. We are given this twin brain for a reason and this is so that we each are balanced and able to live to our fullest potential. When and where the left or the right brain is allowed to dominate the other, we have imbalance. OK, so an artist is for the most part living some incredible experience and life within their mind, but the fruits of these experiences once shared, have produced an immeasurable amount of wealth and have influenced countless lives.

The computer, software and the Internet, all of which you are now using to view this page, are all results of ideas, the seeds or fruits from the trees of imagination.Perhaps you are a teacher, a business person, sales executive, or a public speaker? You most likely use verbal communication every day. You analyze and make decisions, you move things and make things happen, but maybe you think you cannot draw, paint, compose music or do anything artistic. If you believe this you would be right and you would also be wrong. Just as you learned how to speak, you can learn how to be “artistic.” An artist can learn how to speak too!

Alas, as was said before, we each have an inclination towards either the left or the right-brain, at the the price of imbalance, losing out to the great potential from using our entire mind. If an artist has weak verbal skills, what are some of the consequences? We may become nervous around others, unsure of ourselves, lacking confidence in our ability to communicate who we are, what we are or even what we need and want. Such is the case of many artists, not having developed these necessary skills, but they have done and have produced and may well yet produce, incredible things which have and will change every life upon this planet.

Arts to an artist are like their own children. We would not like nor would an artist want someone else to name their children, raise them, control them, take advantage of or exploit them. I happen to have a friend that is a successful New York Times best selling author for historic romance. She has never once named ANY of her books! Perhaps this seems a small price to pay for success, but many artists fear being managed, controlled, or ‘selling out’ their art for fame and fortune. You are now beginning to see why artists starve. They are artists perhaps because, this is all they have ever known or it is their choice. Fearing being used and manipulated for the benefits mostly to others, they often live reclusive lives in abject poverty. Not understanding how to sell or market their work, they remain virtually unknown, but their contributions would be enormous to the world if they were known.In order for their works to be known, someone(s) or something must draw them out of obscurity into the light of day. For centuries there have been patrons of the arts and governments which have supported the arts and the artists. Even the genius and the contributions of Leonardo da Vinci would perhaps have never been known, had it not been for such patron aide. But in the case of da Vinci, was it indeed a patron which helped him? One may do the research to find that much of the art and invention from da Vinci came from his spare time when he was not working. And his work? Well, he was actually hired not for his artistic prowess or his genius, but to entertain guests of a man of wealth. This research makes for great reading and if inspiration is not your forte, then how about something more practical, like how to write a resume that gets results. I believe Bill Gates (of Microsoft®), actually owns the original da Vinci letter where he for all practical purposes, was applying for a job.

Today in the United States particularly, art often is just business, BIG business! Often this industry which supports many other businesses at the expense of an artist is not so much about art per se, as it is about what can be sold for a profit and lots of it. Lets just say that an artist is really good, now what? How can we find their work. The lists of businesses and services that an artist might need would be almost endless, but I will list some, beginning with the basics.

First you need money, resources, a manager, an agent, and lawyers, marketing, advertising, and insurance. If you are a writer of some sorts, then add to the list, an editor. If you are involved with theater, television, radio or motion pictures, you most likely will have to join some union which takes a percentage of all the money you will ever make. Most likely, one will also need a publicist and it is not unheard of to pay them, $12,000.00 for six months with no guarantee of success. TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS? That may be more than a starving artist makes in an entire year! George Weston, an incredible photographer, once had one of his prints sold at an auction for over $100,000.00 and it was sold years after his death and at a price that was far greater than the entire income he earned during his lifetime. By the way, starving artists are very gracious people and very sympathetic to the plight of other starving artists. He opened his humble home and shared his little provisions with another starving artist whom had been living on red beans and cheap red wine. Perhaps Weston sustained the author of ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ Jon Steinbeck?

Back to the basic needs of a starving artist. The least expensive of all the many businesses and clubs a staving artist must support is for copyright protection, although it may take 6 months to a year to receive your registration UNLESS – unless you have all the others above and expediters and extra cash laying around to get things done faster. Oh, an artist may have a multi-gazillion dollar idea, but it will cost a lot of dollars before they ever see a dime in return. But after all, many others are being fed, many others are amassing great wealth and many others are being propped up by the artists. There are three fundamental flaws in membership with the various ‘clubs.’ First, an artist generally is not one of means. Next, their take from the above machine is miniscule in comparison to what everyone else makes. Finally, they usually are never asked if they would like to support the rest of the world. In the end, it’s “business as usual,” “that’s the way it is,” “It’s our way or the highway,” or “If you don’t like it we will find someone else.” Yes, for a lack of a better explanation, an artist has to join a lot of clubs. What to do? TADAH! Enter the benevolent government, the national endowment for the arts and a multitude of other such entities. Ah yes, non-profit organizations designed for one purpose only, to make money in the name of art. Would you have any idea how much money, time and effort is required to set up a non profit organization or to get under the ‘umbrella’ of one, just so you could receive ‘public funding’? It would absolutely astound you! Don’t get me wrong, there should be some checks and balances in order to receive ‘public money,’ you know, taking money from others without asking permission for something you may not agree with or even like. Even still, a non-profit organization is perhaps the best way in this country to receive goods, services and money, a lot of all of it! It then ceases to exist for content, it’s just business. Lets just suppose you are fortunate enough to either start a NONPROF’ or benefit from associating with one. If you have been picked because of your art, your content, your lifelong experience and skill in painting apples, they may ask you to start painting oranges. That is if you want the peoples’ money that they control. Then again, you just might see a lot of crap in the name of art because it got sold, other artists could not afford the NONPROF’ trip, and well, they just have to spend the money or they will lose their funding.

Have you ever seen or read about a grant given to construct a room with a window wherein a single light bulb turns on and off at random? How about a French beatification award of $30,000.00, given to one for spray painting colored patterns around dog excrement and placing little tiny flags in it? If you do not believe me, research it for yourself. Look to the archives of Chuck Sheperd’s Require the owners to remove their pet’s poop! Then grant some artist $30,000.00 to produce some real meaningful contribution to the beatification of the area. Coloring poop and sticking flags in it in the name of art?

Then there is the artist that paints with elephant dung. Another started mixing her deceased mother’s cremated remains with her paints and painting works of art? Then there is another that sets up such things as real corpses around a chess board and puts it in a public place to, to, oh forget about withholding, I’ll just say it, to SHOCK the hell out of people. Good for anatomy, for a museum, publicity and much money, but none of this is art to me. Everything in life gives off something! It could be something good or bad. It may make you sick or it could make you feel better. Even something as the way you say something make lasting impressions. Things get passed on and kicked around like a dog. I remember a man telling me his father explained to him how to determine if you have a ‘good dog.’ “If you throw a stick at the dog and it comes back, that’s a good dog,” he said. When I heard this I was thinking it would have been a ‘smart dog’ if it had just kept going and left the moron to himself. Search the Internet for the following words: the message from water. What you will find will absolutely blow the lid off your head. Water responding to words spoken with praise and prayer, and kindness literally formed new and artistic patterns. Everything in life gives off something! Art and artists can make incredible impressions upon the water of life. Years ago I was traveling and looking forward to visiting ‘The Square,’ in New Orleans, Louisiana USA. This area was known for its artists that would come and paint and sell their works to the admiring public. I was excited to see and hopefully meet several of them. My disappointment was great as there were only a few, none of which had any art to show or sell. Those I spoke with were artists, but they were selling everything from reading palms, crystals and mostly anything to do with the occult. On another trip I was on the waterside of old downtown Savannah, Georgia USA. Walking along the old city, taking in the history and befriending a lot of pigeons with some leftover bread from lunch, I happened upon a very nice, semi-permanent, tent area called ‘the Artists Gallery’. Once inside, there were all kinds of stuff, most of which were neither original nor handmade. Of the 30 or so booths, I found only one artist. I liked her cards and bought some. On the back of each card was, well, you will see later what I saw. This same day, a man approached me and was selling palm frons that he shaped into the famous ‘Savannah Rose’. I liked them and bought two, but later found out he actually was trespassing on private property and stole the palm frons which he had to climb the trees to get. On the way back to my car, another young black man asked if I would like to have a pencil portrait made of my wife. I saw the small collection, but quality work he had to show and gave him permission. Actually, both my wife and I each had our portraits drawn. Here was this young artist, without a permit or a booth, drawing beneath a public shelter. He told us that the police would often be called and run him off. Many of the calls were made by other envious artists either wanting his space or his customers. In the end, he was excellent at what he did and without formal training. The drawings were wonderful, but neither of which looks like my wife or myself.

Remember the lady artist I bought cards from in Savannah? Years earlier I submitted a portfolio of work to and completed a 50 page evaluation, seeking employment with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri. I had been involved with arts and had been writing poetry for years, so this seemed liked a natural move for me. However, I was rejected, but not for the reason you might think. I did not have a degree at the time, but it was not in art that Hallmark® was interested in. This was around the time that ‘Shoebox Greetings®,’ a division of Hallmark was just starting. Many of the Hallmark artists wanted to desperately transfer to this division. Why? Hallmark had recently installed custom designed software and Apple® computers. The person in charge of all the artists had absolutely no background in art. Artists were being replaced by computer operators whose main job was to change backgrounds or other elements around and reissue the card which had been used before. The artists wanted to transfer to Shoebox Greetings, just so they could continue to be what they are, artists. It is also interesting to note that Hallmark must and does subsidize many other smaller greeting card companies, for the tax write-off yes, but more so that they are not thought of as holding a monopoly.

OK, I have now mentioned greeting cards several times. Let me answer what was on the back of the cards from the artist in Savannah. This I will do by way of two images which will also be used to tie this whole starving artist thing together. We will just follow the starving artist through the ‘clubs’ or the BIG business of art.

Most everyone has seen the ‘bar code.’ It is on nearly everything purchased. Every book and many magazines contain the International Standard Book Number or ISBN for short. We are told that these are necessary so that goods and services may be easily ordered or re-ordered. But do you have any idea how many businesses and ‘clubs’ these represent and support or how much money is involved? OK, so here on my website I have both greeting cards and books for sale (among many other items). Lets start with the cards. First, I must join the bar code club whose access fees are based upon my actual earnings. What earnings if I am just starting out? Maybe I have a rich relative that left me money in her will and I can afford to join this club, now what? After receiving my very own and exclusive bar code I have to find other special “club members.” Next, I have to select an “approved and licensed vendor” to make my bar codes or invest in the software to do it myself (only after I have been approved to vend myself). When last I checked, after paying around $300 in set up charges and $12 for the bar code, the approved vendor will send me on a CD, my digital image that my printer can then print. Did I mention that I have on our webste at, hundreds of cards? You do the math X $12 each!OK, suppose I get this all done, now what? Where can I sell a ton of my cards? Hmmm, the world’s biggest retailer is whom? That’s correct, Wall-Mart. After 2008, there will only be Super Centers at Wall-Mart which means groceries. To sell my cards in a grocery, I have to join another club, the grocers’ club, and pay more fees. So this now done, I will then have to move to and live in Northwest Arkansas, just to start to do business with Wall-Mart. Well cool, suppose they agree to buy one million of my cards. For every day they are not received by their distribution center, I have to pay them sometimes thousands of dollars in late fees per day, but they can cancel my order up to and including, the day before I ship them out, with no penalty to them. By the way, I would most likely be responsible for servicing my cards, providing my own racks and displays (according to their specifications), take care of shortages, defective or damaged products, and buy back every single card that does not sell. That’s all right; I can then join another club and sell my unsold cards at the discounted card shops for still less than what I bought them back from Wall-Mart for. If they then do not sell there and after I buy them back again, I can donate them or write them off as bad business expenses along with the printer’s money I still owe as well as the interest on the loans. This can only happen for a limited time though, as the government is going to want to see a profit sooner than later.It’s on to the Harry Potter world of magic and books. Yes books, those that require the ISBN and all the stuff from all the above plus membership with paid dues into the ISBN club. Then I have to get a publisher and join their club, but I cannot join unless I have my agent submit the work, that will only be submitted if I have paid my marketing, law firm, advertising, bank, government, grocer club, bar code club, publicist and on and on. This is just the way it is. Get ready to throw the tea overboard as this is exploitation with recrimination, I mean taxation without representation. OK so this refers to government taxing its people without representation (taking without asking), but isn’t this lack of representation taxing the hell out of starving artists too!

Well my goodness, I have to be a billionaire BEFORE I can be an artist so that I can afford to pay everyone else before I can get paid. This is only part of the reasons for the starving artist syndrome.

A major cause is you and I. When we were children, to most of us, life was simple. We either liked something or we did not. Somewhere along the way in our growing up, we have observed crap being sold as art and wondered why. If a certain person says it is cool, many make their decisions based solely on these opinions of others. If money can be made on crap, then crap will be sold as art. There is also a lot desensitizing present in our society. “Oh, my God, not another flower picture. How yesterday!” Can you just imagine a rose deciding not to grow because the bees pollinated it last year and besides, we have already seen the damn thing countless times? How blaze to smell another rose! Why not try to convince the rose to change its color, fragrance, shape or ask, “Can I get fries with that?” The great American humorist and author, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmons), self-published some of his work. Many others have done the same. The Internet gave new hope to artists initially, but online publishing companies have sprung up everywhere on the web. Now there are other clubs to join. Submit you work online – “Sorry we are not taking new submissions at this time.” “Do you have an agent only a recognized agent can submit new work.” FREE artist sites are now available, but if you want anyone to buy your stuff you must pay for an enhanced artists’ portfolio portal. Have you submitted your site to google, yahoo and others? Cool! Oh did you want someone to actually buy something? Well then, you must pay for SEO (search engine optimization), and keywords. Get those meta tags in order, so the search bots can spider your website, you did want to be listed on the first or second page of the search engines did you not? Perhaps join and pay the PayPal, Ebay or the Home Shopping Network clubs. You do need a shopping cart, secure network, encryption, broad band etc. to handle the 10,000 hits to make just one sale. Try banner ads, blogs and resellers. What an incredible amount of wealth (greed), is being generated from ideas that have all come from some kind of artist!Have you ever been to or seen advertisements of a ‘starving artist show’? At first it seems like this might be a great thing. We might believe that we can both buy some bargain art and help some starving artists. The reality is often quite different though. Most of these shows are manned not by artists, but salespeople. More than once is too often that the work we view is NOT the work of an artist at all. Sometimes many people are employed for next to nothing, just to complete not one piece but many. To keep from paying anyone a fair wage for producing art or from claiming the work as their own, many people may work on a single piece of the painting for example. Many of these same people are not artists. For explanation, let’s say you are the red dot person and I am the blue stroke person. All day long you paint nothing but red dots on countless canvases and I paint only blue strokes. Neither of us may have any clue what the final pieces will look like or even who signs their name to it. So now new ‘clubs’ have discovered ways to make money off of starving artists.Art is usually expensive because of the multitude of clubs it feeds and often because expenses are so great. Expenses rise when people looking for something cheap, think a fair price is too expensive. We often equate cost with value. If it costs a lot it must be good, but if it costs a lot we can’t afford it. If it is cheap, it must be crap. Meanwhile somewhere, someone is painting with real crap and selling it because so and so says it’s art and if so and so says it’s art, it must be good. So the demand is created and people buy it. For crying out loud, we need to just get honest and think for ourselves. We do not need ANYONE to tell us what we do or do not like. We do not need an art degree, an expert or some critic to define for us what we should and should not like. The starving artist is easy to recognize too. They are the ones we see doing their thing and are actually trying to sell their own work, because they cannot afford to join the ‘clubs’. If you see and like it and can afford it, buy it!! Art is not for self alone. It is supposed to be a mutually beneficial thing in life among the artist and you and I. It is meant to be shared, but not exploited. It is not solely for an investment, but it is an investment in the future. Investments are meant to take time, something done for the long haul, not bought and sold when the marketplace fluctuates or someone gets mad and pulls out their investment, influencing others to follow suit. Most artists I have ever met are highly skilled, which by the way are for the most part unknown and far greater in skill than what the general public classifies as great art by great artists. Most artists I have ever met are not in the least bit greedy. They only really and truly desire three things: the freedom to express, to share with others and to make their living from what they love. They are generally not selfish, self-absorbed perhaps, but there is a difference.This is all why artists starve and why is the only place you can purchase our products. Yes it is my site and maybe you think this is all self-serving. I am making a point and quite frankly, I cannot afford to join all the clubs.

Artists starve sometimes because they either don’t have enough food or they forget to eat. Sometimes they cannot be interupted with food. Sometimes they suffer from mal-nutrition because, they eat the wrong things and even sometimes, only enough to shut off the noise from the growling stomach.They love what they do, often even more than they desire to eat. Being so absorbed and so focused on something can have its detriment to ones health physically, mentally, intellectually and emotionally. The whole key again is balance. This balance is the twin brain. Why do artists starve? Do they starve because they are insane? Why did Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear, because he was nuts? Maybe it was because he was just starving, and his ear was the closest item without having to stop painting?

So the next time you see some weird person (their verbal skills lacking and living inside their right brains), and they are playing in some sand box, out of the way; off the beaten track and are building beautiful castles in the sand, all alone and unknown, if you like what they do, BUY IT! Perhaps they then can afford to buy real bread and a hot cup of coffee. Perhaps not only will you have been enriched by their lives, but they will be able to join all the clubs which will in turn, produce great wealth and benefits to the entire human race. See the artist up ahead on the exit ramp? What is that they are holding out? A handout is not the same thing as a hand up or a helping hand by the way. Oh, I can clearly see it now, they are holding up a handmade sign that reads: WILL FEED (the world) FOR WORK!

This Article was the lead story 6/21/2006 at



~ by Dahni on February 11, 2008.

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