Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017)

It’s the one question that people ask creatives and artists over and over again, and it’s the one that we loathe the most.

“What’s your real job?”

Even as our culture celebrates creative achievement in the form of blockbuster movies, chart-topping singers, music and dance reality-show competitions, and overnight Youtube sensations, most people still assume that every creative has to have a plan B.
This is quite ironic given that traditional jobs offered by big businesses are no longer a safe haven, as evidenced by the news of layoffs and downsizing every other day. More importantly, every artist has had to make major decisions as they weigh their desire to create and perform with the fear of not being able to make ends meet. As a musician myself, I (Allen) can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had over the years after gigs backstage, where the topic inevitably shifted to how we needed bigger checks, how someone had to get up early for their day job, or how cheap the patrons were. While we’re all about our art, it’s impossible to make our art without money. [We’ve discussed this same subject in previous posts.]

Into this battle between creativity and commerce steps Jeff Goins, best-selling author of “The Art of Work”, with his latest book “Real Artists Don’t Starve”. The title alone grabs the attention of any artist who is struggling to figure out how to make their passion provide for them, and Goins doesn’t disappoint. This book sends two clear messages to the artist, one emotional, and the other practical. One; that we can be successful and prosperous as artists, and two; there are simple and achievable steps we can take to make that happen.

To make his point, Goins analyzes how the ‘myth of the starving artist’ began, and unpacks the historical inaccuracy of that idea, starting with the artist of all artists, Michelangelo. However, it’s not just a history book on how artists in the 15th and 16th century made money. He then provides several case studies of modern artists in all types of disciplines who have forged successful careers.

Are all of these ‘thriving artists’, as Goins labels them, working full-time in the arts? Surprisingly , no. It’s refreshing that he does not disparage artists who remain in steady jobs, as if keeping a traditional career diminishes a true artist’s status. Instead, he shows how the principles of apprenticeship, patronage, and entrepreneurship all work together to make the Thriving Artist lifestyle possible. The book lays out these principles in an easy to digest fashion, and every chapter has a new twist on how you can leave the starving artist mentality behind. One by one, the author takes on mindsets that drive the artist into an impoverished, struggle-based life, and opens up the alternative. Even concepts that should be second nature to creatives, like collaboration and vision, become more applicable to our everyday careers when explained in this manner.

This book won’t give you a ’10 steps to becoming a multimillionaire artist’, one-size fits all formula, but that’s a good thing. The joy of being creative is being able to forge your own path, and by encouraging artists to embrace their true worth, Real Artists Don’t Starve provides that pathway. It’s highly recommended to all artists and creatives, but especially to those who have continued to struggle with the idea of getting paid well for what you love.

To learn more about Jeff’s work, visit his website at

Question: Do you agree with the book’s premise that being a starving artist is a choice? Why or why not? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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