How Starving Artists Can Support Their Work

From Jeff: This is a guest article by Joe Bunting. Joe is on a quest along with a few friends to discover the secrets of becoming a great writer. You can find him hunting at The Write Practice, a practical blog on the writing process.
Starving Artist
Photo credit: Chicago Art Department (Creative Commons)

I looked at her as she sat next to me and asked myself, what could I do to help her? I have to be able to do something.

Katie moved to Atlanta to intern with a young and growing film production company.

Things started out great. They assigned her a couple of shorts to edit and asked her to do some shooting on set.

She was living her dream, getting a ton of experience in the film industry.

There was a catch, though. The internship was unpaid. Despite the fact that she lived in a small house with about six roommates, she blew through her savings in months and had to find a part time job.

When that job didn’t meet her living expenses, she started shooting wedding videos and had to get another part time job.

Katie told me:

I came here to work [in film], but everything I’m doing to support myself is pulling me away from it.

If you dream about pursuing a creative vocation, chances are you will experience a battle between the work you love and the practicalities of life.

Of course, if your family has the money to set you up in a Greenwich Village apartment to break into the New York music scene or your last novel was called The Deathly Hallows then disregard the following four ideas to support both your art and your fragile existence.

You don’t have to starve. Here’s how:

1. Live cheap

“And then we would eat beans again,” said Cormac McCarthy’s ex-wife when he would refuse to do paid readings.

You may not need to eat canned chili seven nights a week, but living poor has been a part of the creative lifestyle since the days of wandering bards.

Steven Pressfield lived in his van for years. Hemingway moved to a country with a favorable exchange rate (Paris in the 1920s). And I once lived in a three bedroom apartment with seven people.

It won’t be comfortable, but the real question is, is your art worth the pain?

2. Be more disciplined

When creatives have kids, they always say it’s easier to work. Why? Because they know they only have the hour of naptime to finish that chapter, painting, article. They get ruthlessly focused.

Twitter? Nope. Facebook? Not now. Zynga games? Yeah, right.

Spend the first couple of hours in the morning writing your book before work. Paint that landscape when you get home. Every successful artist works every day. If you’re not, you need to be.

3. Find a patron

If you’ve begun to prove yourself and need time to finish a big film/book/painting series/album, consider looking for a grant or a sponsor.

Kickstarter is a website devoted to funding your creative dreams. You offer rewards — signed copies of your novel, a shout out in your film, a private concert — and donors pledge money to meet your funding goal.

There are thousands of dollars in grants just waiting for talented creatives to grab them. Apply for a $100,000 grant to fund your opera through or a $25,000 fellowship to fund the completion of your book of poems (among many others) through the National Arts Council. Also, check out these grants: 19 Grants for Writers and Other Creative Types.

4. Give up your dream

Alternatively, you could quit. No more early mornings and late nights in the studio. Get a real job so you don’t have to penny pinch. In fact, in the practical sense, this is probably what you should do.

But, of course, you can’t, can you?

Further reading: The Starving Artist Solves the Problem

What are some other ways starving artists can support themselves? Share your thoughts in the comments.

*Photo credit: Chicago Art Department (Creative Commons)

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