Is Art Worth Starving For?

Confessions Of An Artist
Grabbing the spare change lying around the dirty carpet floor I decided to head out to Hollywood for a drink.
Photo by: Florian Klauer

2011

Ascending the stairs of the North Hollywood metro station I step out into the cool night. A steady breeze sways the palm trees back and forth as I notice no one else is around the station. Even if there was a crowd it wouldn’t cure me of the loneliness I feel right now. Looking down to my phone I see it’s past midnight.  If only I hadn’t lost my iTouch, with its wifi ability, chasing that bus down in Beverly Hills, I’d be able to look up the bus schedule. There could be one showing up any minute but I know better. At this time of night there is no bus coming I think slumping my shoulders and starting to make the five mile walk home.

In two weeks my lease will be up which was a good thing considering I didn’t have the money for next month’s rent. There was still hope that the last place I interviewed would call back but I doubted it. I had to miss work for that interview which meant I didn’t work anywhere now. No job, no family and no friends around. What was I doing here?

I was supposed to be writing but supposed is the key word here. Since I wasn’t working anymore I tried to sit down and write but only shit came out. I grew bored and grabbed the spare change lying around the dirty carpet floor and decided to head out to Hollywood for a drink.

Just one drink it’s all you can afford I told myself. It didn’t matter I’d find a way to get drunk though. All I had to do was nurse that beer at the bar and someone would eventually buy me drinks. Leave it to the luck of the Irish, no luck anywhere but at a bar, go figure. So here I was stumbling down Lankershim Ave, the buzz fading away while the hangover and reality settled in. If I didn’t do something soon I’d be homeless…

***

Is art worth starving for?

Can I make a confession to you?

Good.

When I was a young child around five to eight years old I use to have a paralyzing fear that would keep me up at night. It wasn’t the dark or monsters in the closet. AD at a young age always feared becoming homeless, unable to care for himself, and a becoming a disappointment to his parents.

A white, middle class, child living in a suburban neighborhood in the middle of America fearing he’d become homeless? As crazy as it sounds it’s a true story.

I wasn’t scared of disappointing my parents because they were the super intense type or the dreaded “helicopter parents.” I was just a weird child who couldn’t turn his mind off when it came to bedtime.

At this young age I was aware that childhood was a fleeting moment. I knew that one day I would grow up and have to take care of myself.

I just couldn’t fathom what adults did to pay bills and such. My father was a chef, a brilliant one, a certified master of his field, but he didn’t want his kids following in his footsteps. He wanted us to get the education he never had and to have a chance at better opportunities.

The type of jobs I figured he envisioned for us were the type other dads had. The ones required wearing a tie and somehow associated with business but I didn’t understand anything more than that.

I can remember my high school graduation party, friends and family all there, and the one question that came up:

What are you studying or what do you want to do for a living?

I was eighteen years old and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I knew I was going to study business because it seemed like the type of thing I was supposed to do, i.e. what was expected of me.

I remember asking anyone older who was working what they did in their day to day job but no one seemed to be able to tell me. I wasn’t five anymore I was eighteen but I still couldn’t figure out what adults did.

How was I supposed to know what I wanted to do if most people couldn’t even explain what they did for a living? I didn’t know so I went off the expectations of society.

Society has expectations of you and these were the expectations I knew of

  • Go to college
  • Find a wife
  • Get a job, most likely wearing a tie
  • Watch everything fall into place

Perhaps that’s a very narrow way of thinking, and it is, but I was eighteen; the world was so much smaller than. I enjoyed writing but society had led me to believe that there was no money to be made in it. That only the lucky could make a career out of it. It seemed like a silly dream to pursue.

So I did what I always did back then, ignore the problem, and I was damn good at it. Besides I was just coming off being an All American High School swimmer and I was more focused on my upcoming collegiate career.

Is it worth starving for art?
With swimming on my mind and my mind on swimming there wasn’t time to think about reality.

I (wrongly assumed) didn’t have time to worry about the reality of the world that awaited me. That stuff would figure itself out.

I lived the college life, training hard in swimming, partying harder, and occasionally going to class. I knew reality was setting in soon but I told myself there would never be another time like college. When else would I be surrounded by friends and readily available pussy in every direction?

Yet it didn’t matter how much I drank, how much pussy I got, or how many drugs I consumed, reality continued to gnaw away at my insides.

What was I going to do? I rationalized that it would all come together; the universe would work itself out. I’d graduate, find a job that could pay off the debt and get married. I was on the right path, I was in college, I still had my girl and all I had to do was get to graduation.

Yet deep down inside of me were the quiet whispers of my soul asking if I really did want to get married at such a young age? It would mean settling down and so would that office job if I could ever find it.

Four AM, my brain melting, watching the news reports of Wall Street crashing, job markets plummeting, and seeing my peers’ only answer was to just dance; I had a shocking realization that perhaps there was nothing waiting after college.

I couldn’t do it I realized. I couldn’t go down the same path everyone went down. I could never wear a tie to work or sit in an office from nine to five. It just seemed there was something more to life than that.

So what would you do then, AD? You have to have a job. The real world is coming soon and you have nothing lined up. Thoughts of the thoughts of five year old me, of a homeless man, of disappointing my father…my father…my father, yes he once told me something, actually told me many times.

Follow your passion and don’t worry about the money. If you’re following your passion the money will follow eventually.

The answer was so simple. It had been in front of my eyes the whole time. I was always writing so why wouldn’t I write?

But how do you make a living doing that?

Just because I was passionate about writing didn’t mean the money would just come. I’d have to take that passion and use that energy to find a way, any way to be able to make money off of it.

I didn’t know and I wandered the country searching for the answers for the next four years. I was lost without a mentor and it made things a lot tougher. I was stubborn, willing to lose everything for my writing and willing to starve for it.

Is it worth it? To starve for art?

There’s a false feeling of superiority when one begins to starve for their art. It’s easy to look around at everyone else and feel that you are better than them because your path is the “righteous” one. But what makes it righteous? What makes you better than the guy who earns 100k a year?

The truth?

Nothing. In fact you may be worse than that person.

I used to rationalize to myself that I was better than everyone else because I wasn’t miserable in an office every day. Ain’t that special? Well the joke was on me I was miserable because I was BROKE and anyone who wasn’t was just a mindless drone in my mind.

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking of the romance of being an artist. You’re the cool starving artist earning your rite of passage. You look to external factors thinking as long as you’re living a fascinating life than you are doing it right. The truth is you’re just another average starving artist.

Is art worth starving for?
Anyone can be a starving artist. Do you want to be average or do you want to be an artist?

The thing is, if and when you do create you’re masterpiece, what do you do? How do you get it out into the world? If you don’t have someone who backs you, you know what it takes?

MONEY

Did you know a book can cost up to one grand (and that’s the cheaper side) just to have it professionally edited? If you think you can skip that most publishers won’t look at a manuscript if it isn’t professionally edited.

But we live in the time of self publishing, AD, you don’t need a publisher. 

Great! But you still need someone to professionally edit your work because if you go the self publishing route you will be scrutinized for errors by your readers (usually on a unconscious level). It’s simple psychology and there is still a stigma to self publishing.

It will also cost you money to have a cover done professionally for your book because the sad fact is that people very much do judge a book by it’s cover. 

If you want somewhere you’re readers can find more information on you, you will need a website. And guess what? A website costs money too. It’s the old saying that it takes money to make money.

You could hold out and hope that someone will one day find your work and realize the genius you are.

Or

You can go out there and generate the income you need to get your work out there.

So, is art worth starving for?

One day in California I realized I was about to live my greatest childhood fear: becoming homeless.  I had to ask myself was this all worth it?

I knew I was following my passion but the problem was that I was following it with reckless abandon. I was out in ocean of the real world drowning, searching desperately for a mentor.

I would one day have to realize what I thought was my all was nowhere even near what my all could go to. I would have to get out of my comfort zone to really achieve what I wanted. I had to realize I wasn’t starving because I was an artist. I was starving because I was a fool. 

I’m tired of being a fool, aren’t you?

I’m not going to tell you how to make money to achieve what you want in your art just yet. I’d be lying to you if I told you I knew how to. I am working towards that though and I hope in the next six months to have a nice passive income and then I’ll be willing to share what I know with you.

BUT if you are searching for a way I’d suggest to go read some of Victor Pride’s articles on making money, there is a wealth of information there.

Comments

  1. Leo says

    still in LA?

    I’m from SoCal as well. I’m in a *somewhat* similar situation.
    We should link up. Drinks on me.

    • AD says

      No, sadly I am not anymore but I’m still in contact with some people there. If you don’t mind I’d like to hear more on your similar situation, see if I can help at all. Email me at admin@adziemann.com I would love to hear from you.

  2. says

    AD, this is really a superb article. Though I may be insanely biased; reading it, I felt as though it was something I could and would write. I’ve been through this exact emotional journey – though I have never been close to homeless or starving, I have been completely impoverished and indebted.

    “What makes you better than the guy who earns 100k a year?

    The truth?

    Nothing. In fact you may be worse than that person.”

    When I realised this… Boy did I feel silly. If I had concentrated on working a job and making a money for a couple years, I’d be so much further ahead than I am now. Yet that decision felt like a betrayal at the time, and so of course, I did not make it. I stuck with going my own way, ultimately at the expense of really being able to go my own way.

    • AD says

      Thank you so much Andrew. Really felt like I hit my stride with this article.

      And you nailed it on the head on the last part. It was a tough pill to swallow when I realized I wasn’t better than the guy making 100K. It’s hard not to look back and want to kick yourself over and over for not getting your shit together quicker. How much farther you could be in your journey. But that is life. I’m definitely someone who has to learn lessons the hard way and it was a hard lesson to learn on this one.

      But let’s be grateful we’re both on the right track in our journey and perhaps that stubbornness we both seem to have about not betraying ourself can be turned into strength rather than a weakness.

  3. says

    It’s funny, your greatest childhood fear–becoming homeless–is exactly how my parents used to try and scare me into compliance when I was a kid. They claim I was always difficult and never did what I was told (I would agree); they would tell me NO, I would nod my head and smile, and the second they turn around I’d do it anyway. So their method to try and control me was to tell me that if I don’t listen to them I’d end up on the street as a homeless. It didn’t help. I didn’t listen anyway, but that’s a different story.

    This is a great article for many reasons, but IMO, mainly because it’s so relatable. It reminds me how on the one hand, where we’re at now is the direct result of all the choices we made so far–we’re responsible; we’re to blame; we’re to praise. But on the other hand, we live in such a confusing and brainwashing environment, it’s not easy to figure it all at once. Some people never manage to. Family tells you do X, friends tell you do Y, salesmen tell you buy XYZ. It takes strong will and practice to disconnect from all that and tune into yourself.

    The only good thing about being a starving artist is that you’re lean and hungry. Some people become fat, lazy and spoiled once they find success (metaphorically speaking 😉 )

    Awesome article. Will be coming back for more.

    Tara
    http://therationalrebel.com

    • AD says

      Thanks Tara. A humorous and insightful comment. You sound like a pretty funny kid back in the day. I’d love to hear more about the young Tara and how it brought you to be the Rational Rebel. My father always told me I just wanted to rebel and it was true ever since I was a kid I always found some way to be different and rebel. But my parents were pretty cool about it all, letting me do my thing and hence letting me embarrass myself from time to time.

      You nailed it that we are responsible, we’re to blame, and to praise yet we live in such a confusing and brainwashing environment that it is hard to figure it all out. For years I have been peeling away the layers of indoctrination and finding myself one small step at a time. I’ve always been searching for some kind of truth even if I was unaware what I was really looking for. It’s a struggle but the journey is worth it.

      And yes having to walk almost everywhere and starving really leans you out and hunger is one hell of a motivator. Again great comment and hope to see your name popping up in the comment section.

  4. says

    Hi AD

    Can totally relate.

    Going through being evicted at my LA place now.

    Many choices/events have led me to this circumstance, but the biggest culprit was my ego to pursue acting and not being wise, practical, or savvy about it.

    Will be reading more.

    Ron

    • AD says

      That’s a complete bummer to hear. I know that feeling all too well. Some may say you have failed and that’s because most people would give up now if in your shoes. I’m guessing you’re not giving up. So you take from this everything you can learn about what you did wrong. It can be hard because you have to be completely honest with yourself to see where you were failing. If you can admit where you are wrong then you can learn from it. Some see it as failure and others see it as discovering ways of not being able to do something.

  5. says

    Very good stuff here, AD. I found this post a while ago but felt compelled to leave a response this time around as the recent events in my life helped me connect with this post a lot deeper.

    I feel like I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum as a “starving artist”. For a long time, I found constant success from my art and was able to create a very nice lifestyle for myself. I became so entrenched in that lifestyle that my art suffered, and I stopped producing at the high level that had gotten me “everything I wanted”.

    I was starving for art, but had lost my touch.

    Once that lifestyle came crumbling down I had nothing but my art to fallback on. The thing I neglected for so long was the only thing left for me when all was said and done. How ironic.

    Getting back into it was challenging as the landscape around me had changed and I had a ton of catching up to do. The past 2 years have been just that and I’m finally starting to see real results for what I’ve been doing.

    But. I still live out of my truck. I still drift from place to place. I still don’t have very much money.

    Im fortunate that I can I eat (I’m bulking right now), I can workout, and I’m becoming better at socializing. I always keep my mind busy with books and general observations and am getting a little better each day.

    Maybe I’m a starving artist, but I don’t feel like one. I believe I was starving when I lost my art, now I’m a man of choice. I know money is out there and I can make it very easily with my skills. I just believe in the work I’m doing now and know the money will come if I keep pushing.

    Keep the writing up AD! I haven’t dug this deep into myself in a long time.

    • AD says

      Hey Alex, thanks for the comment. A very insightful and interesting one indeed too. You know in the article I never really answered the question is art worth starving for. Because it depends on why you’re starving really. If you’re doing the work that needs to be done then there is nothing wrong with hard times if it will get you to where you want to be.

      When you want to create you live through it. A day without writing is a day without living for me. Yet It is funny though how one can neglect something they need the most. There is power in realizing that your art is a necessity to you, I think. Glad to see you’re digging around the sight and within yourself. Hope to see you around in more comments.

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