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the starving artist is a lie.


Friday, July 28, 2023


One of my professors in college insisted that we never buy into the myth of the starving artist. People will tell you that depravity and pain births the best work. The most revered artists were the most troubled (we overlook that our view of the “brooding artist” is typically male, white, somehow well-dressed, and working in isolation; that this is the romanticized ideal of a “genius” is not accidental.) He told us that the starving artist is an archetype to encourage creatives to defer to malnourishment (both physical and otherwise) as a dutiful sacrifice of their work.


“Don’t buy it”, my kind professor demanded. “Good artists eat well, go on walks, take care of themselves, and nourish their communities.” 


“Done,” I thought. Though it’s a lesson I remind myself of regularly. 


Art transforms pain; it doesn’t wallow in it. I don’t see Frida Kahlo’s work as a testimony to her pain, but to her healing, to the world that she believed in beyond her physical limitations. The first painting she ever sold, Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia), was of two maids who nursed her after the bus accident that wounded her spine. At the surface, you could view these two women as evidence of Kahlo’s pain and misfortune, their distant and empty stares appearing to see something bleak in the distance. But don’t stop there. Kahlo was showing the determination, rigor, and valor of women who historically would be overlooked for their contributions. The painting is not merely the view of her bedridden days, it is a revolutionary testimony to the impact of these two beloved, hard-working Mexican women. And I do not mean this interpretation to overlook the physical or emotional pain she experienced from his disability but to emphasize that Kahlo was a good artist in spite of her pain, not because of it. Because she saw beyond it. 


I’m a little off the tracks. But here’s my point! We are changing the archetype of the artist, and I am voting we choose “not the miserable, angry guy.” The contemporary is everyone. People of all ages and backgrounds making art in their bedrooms, in the park, with their friends, just for their own eyes, to post online, to stick to their mom’s fridge. Today’s artists are learning that they make better art when they prioritize their bodies, their minds, their well-being, and their communities. And I really love to see it. 


Go on a walk!!!

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