Debunking the Starving Artist myth

Were you told the story of the Starving Artist? Did it scare you into compliance and have you running as fast as you can toward the nearest law school? It’s not too late to turn back towards your creativity…

Once upon a time there was a wildly talented artist. He fuelled his craft with strong alcohol, opioids and mad rants. His insanity was insufferable and he lived most of his life in solitude with his paints. The little money he made from his art was reserved for more art supplies, even at the expense of food, as it was his only release from the pitiful and lonely life he led. He died, tragically, too soon and upon his death, his genius was discovered, his name carved in the history books and his millions squandered in the hands of his evil inheritors.

We all know this story well.

This folklore is told to unsuspecting children, snuffing out their dreams and preparing them for a life of work drudgery.

For those of us who grew up believing this myth, I’m here to debunk it and free you up to follow your creative curiosity.

The truth is, we are born to live a wildly creative life.

Let’s deconstruct this story piece by piece and see if you change your mind.

Myth 1: Creative people are insane.

There is no link between insanity and creativity that has been scientifically proven.

What we do know is that many ‘traditionally’ creative people operate in an open-minded, absorbing brain pattern. The symptoms of this pattern are higher alpha and theta brain waves (like those that happen when we fall asleep or meditate), the are more receptive of strange and distant associations and they use art as a way to explore and process emotions.

In some cases, damage to parts of the brain (specifically the left pre-frontal cortex) has resulted in increased creative output because it seems to lower the judgement that keeps us behaving in a socially acceptable way.

Want to free up your creative brain a little more without compromising your sanity? Here’s some ideas:

  • Start a meditation practice.
  • Remind yourself daily to suspend your judgement for a period of time (that means judging things as ‘good’ and as ‘bad’).
  • Explore your emotions.

Myth 2: Creativity is fuelled by altered states of mind

Julia Cameron was worried that choosing a life of sobriety would mean giving up her creativity. Afterall, she had always done her best writing in collaboration with a bottle of whisky. Instead, what she found, was that her sobriety enabled consistency and consistency improved her craft.

She went on to write The Artists’ Way – a book that revolutionised the concept of creativity and unblocked millions of creative people.

While alcohol and certain drugs have been shown to induce a state of cognitive disinhibition (reduced judgement that is helpful for insight), it has more downsides for creativity than positive effects: it also brings behavioural disinhibition which opens the door to distraction, lowers the likelihood of taking steps to follow through on your idea and can risk conditioning yourself to associate your creativity with inebriation preventing you from creating a regular practice.

An elevated mood has been connected to creativity and decreased cognitive inhibition. It would stand to reason, then, that taking drugs considered “uppers” would aid creativity as well. Luckily for us, researchers have tested this assumption. It turns out that amphetamine-type drugs have no significant or negative results. They are highly dose dependent and a little too much can increase inhibition.

So what works?

Simply being in a good mood doesn’t evoke greater ideation and divergent thinking – you need to change your mood in a positive direction. Try these activities:

  • Listen to upbeat music
  • Listen to a good joke
  • Physical cardio activity like dancing or running
  • Spending time in nature and sunshine.

Myth 3: Artists only make money when they’re dead.

There are so many ways to make money from your art these days: markets, etsy stores, commissions, books, blogs, plays, movies, youtube… I could go on and on and on.

People care about your opinion now more than ever. It’s never been easier to grow and access a world-wide audience. Mediums are accessible and affordable as are teachers (Masterclass anyone?).

Art lines the walls of people’s homes. It lines streets of popular cities.

The old ways are falling. You don’t need a masters degree or a rich Dad or a pedigree.

You need to be brave enough to share your human experience in a way that helps others feel seen and heard.

Let me say that again: you need to be brave enough to share your human experience.

Your curiosity is a snow-flake. Only you have your particular lens on the world. Only you have the unique combination of experiences, associations and interests that intersect in exactly the way you do. And this, your expression, is the missing piece someone else needs to make sense of their experiences, associations and interests.

You already have everything you need to be successful. Can you believe that? Can you believe that you don’t need to be mad, drunk and alone to create?

We need you – quirky, messy, questioning, ALIVE.

If you have a creative passion bubbling inside of you but you aren’t sure of the brave steps to take to make it your life’s work, I’d love to chat with you. I’m opening up spots for 3 brave creative people who want to work with me in my creative coaching container. It’s absolutely free but must be the right fit. DM me and we’ll chat.

Be Brave and Curious,

Success! You're on the list.

Published by hanfitz.creates

I'm Hannah, a business coach for creative professionals. The world needs creativity and innovation: this is how we progress as humans. But, the creative journey is paved with challenges: we're told the story of the starving artist since we're children, our brain is hard wired to resist anything new (like creative ideas), we doubt our ability and worthiness to succeed and we crush our ingenuity with judgement and comparison. Yet, we know our purpose is to create. I help visual artists, designers and illustrators bridge this gap with my uniquely curated knowledge and experience of graphic design, finance, human behaviour and neuroscience. You have invested time and resources into their technical skill; now, it's time to invest in your mindset and strategy. After working with me, you can confidently communicate the value of your work, attract clients and charge what you're worth through multiple income streams. This frees up more time and energy to do what you're best at: create.

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