The Problem With the Myth of the Starving Artist

Most aren't really starving—they've got resources, support
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2015 1:58 PM CST
The Problem With the Myth of the Starving Artist
In this 1939 file photo, American novelist Ernest Hemingway is shown at his typewriter as he works at Sun Valley lodge, Idaho.   (AP Photo/File)

We hold the archetype of the starving artist—the one working two crap jobs and burning the midnight oil to birth their masterpieces, subsisting on sheer love of craft—close to our hearts, but in reality art is more often born of privilege and resources, writes Ann Bauer in a Salon piece headlined "'Sponsored' by my husband." She cites a well-known author who "also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune," yet let a starry-eyed fan think he'd "written a number of magazine articles to get by" while he spent a "tough" decade on his latest tome. Calling it "the Marie Antoinette syndrome," Bauer says that's the problem with "those with privilege and luck" not wanting "the riffraff knowing the details." "We do an enormous 'let them eat cake' disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish, and in some way succeed," she writes.

Bauer's been there: "I used to be poor, overworked, and overwhelmed. And I produced zero books during that time." She finally published a novel at 39, but only after years in poverty, a divorce from a chaotic first husband, scoring some connections, and moving in with mom and dad. Her second husband is financially successful, and she can focus on her writing—and not the leaky pipe or making rent. She's cranking out her "dark, heady little books" that don't do particularly well, "essentially 'sponsored' by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat." Her third novel took only eight months to write, but, she says, "without all those advantages, I might be on page 52." Click for Bauer's full column. (More writers stories.)

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