On David K’s recommendation, I’m reading Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve. Goins is attacking some common myths that hang around artistic types, like the idea that making money means you sold out, or the notion that success is all a matter of blind luck. Believe it or not, you can work things to your advantage in your pursuit of art. Goins distills his advice into a dozen principles, which he doesn’t call The Twelve Rules of Goins, but I’m going to.
Behold, the Twelve Rules of Goins.
1. The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one.
2. The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
3. The Starving Artist believes he has enough talent. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.
4. The Starving Artist is stubborn about everything. The Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things.
5. The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
6. The Starving Artist believes he can be creative anywhere. The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening.
7. The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.
8. The Starving Artist does his work in private. The Thriving Artist practices in public.
9. The Starving Artist works for free. The Thriving Artist always works for something.
10. The Starving Artist sells out too soon. The Thriving Artist owns his work.
11. The Starving Artist masters one craft. The Thriving Artist masters many.
12. The Starving Artist despises the need for money. The Thriving Artist makes money to make art.
Some solid advice there. Take a closer look at #6: The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening. In that chapter, Goins quotes a little detail from Patti Smith on why so many creative types moved to New York in the 1970s: “It was cheap to live here, really cheap.” Obviously NYC is the furthest thing from cheap nowadays. But the art scene of the 1970s is a big reason why the city still holds a flavor that so many hip youngsters find irresistible. Apparently the cycle goes something like this: a bunch of creative people move to a cheap town, meet each other, do their creative thing, and attract lots of other people who want to live in a happenin’ place.
That right there is seventy percent of the reason T and I moved to Birmingham. It’s cheap to live here, really cheap. When don’t have to worry so much about stacking the wampum, you have the luxury to spend your time on other, more creative pursuits. And when those creative pursuits do start to turn a profit, the profit doesn’t have to be enormous for you to make ends meet.
One final thought: my friend Daniel pointed out that there’s this assumption underneath these twelve principles that Thriving Artists are the real artists, whereas Starving Artists are poseurs. Goins makes that assumption explicit in the title of the book: real artists don’t starve. The implication is that, if you aren’t making money on your art, you’re not a real artist. When you get right down to it, is that any more helpful that the reverse? There’s nothing wrong with an electrician who writes music in his spare time and never makes a nickel from it.