Don’t Buy the Starving Artist Syndrome: A Message to Every Creative Young Person

“Art is hard.”

“You can’t make money in the arts.”

“If you choose an art career, you’d better have a backup.”

“Artists are destined to struggle.”

“Your career can’t be your passion.”

And the worst…

“Those who can’t create art settle to teach art.”

If you are in an arts-related profession, it’s likely you or your art students have heard these phrases.

The negative connotations surrounding the arts don’t help our students who are set on entering arts-related professions, and certainly don’t help our mission for advocacy.

Lisa Phillips

So what are we to do? I set out to find some answers by talking with arts advocacy guru Lisa Phillips of The Artistic Edge to dig into why this happens and what we can do about it.

Why Many Artists DO Struggle

Through her work, Lisa noticed a common thread with artists who pursue careers in the arts – they were really talented, but they didn’t have a grasp on the business side of things. If you want to create a career out of your passion, you must not only know how create and innovative but also how to sustain it.

“All artists are entrepreneurs, but no one ever told us that” – Lisa Phillips


Getting Out of the Starving Artist Mindset


Lisa has great tips for those who are in arts-related careers or plan to enter one in the future.


1. Delegate

Think about the most successful person you know. Do they do their own accounting? Design their own website? Artists must delegate what they can so they can focus on their genius work, which is creation. Look at celebrity musicians; they have a whole team of people helping them every single day!


2. Observe

Find someone who is currently successful in the career you want to go into. What are they doing? How did they get there? Reach out and ask to have coffee or a phone interview with them. Chances are they took a path that was vastly different than someone who isn’t thriving in their profession. Use this as research. Many people are happy to help.


When Others Say “You Can’t”


When an artistic person announces they want to enter an arts-related field, many people write them off. One of my friends in High School went to school for fashion design. She was one of the smartest in our class. She went on to intern at Calvin Klein, got her Master’s in Interior Design, and quickly got hired at several successful firms around the globe. In fact, I recently hired her for one of my own design projects! I am sure we all know stories like this one. It’s important to share them to encourage students who are receiving negative feedback about their chosen career paths.

Lisa states, “Don’t let people who didn’t follow their dreams talk you out of yours.”


Lisa Phillips Quote


This is so true! She recommends getting your advice from the experts in your chosen field, not those who know nothing about the viability of your chosen path. Are you taking the reins yourself, or are you listening to people who have never done it? Everyone has an opinion about something. It’s our choice if we take the advice.


What if the Future is Fuzzy?


What if the path isn’t clear? Still don’t know what you want to be when you “grow up”?  You aren’t alone. I think some of us are still in this position as adults! Lisa herself stated that she knew she wanted to be “behind the scenes” in the arts, but she didn’t know any careers that supported this goal at the time. However, knowing the general idea helped her to find matches. Throughout her career she has worked as a director in film and television, worked for a film festival and started a theater camp. She has also chaperoned children for a professional production of Oliver and started her own successful business. All of these careers supported her original goal and vision for her life.


Get Going Already!


Lisa advises students, adults and really anyone with a goal, to make connections and get out there. Everything is a game. There are rules to the game that will help you succeed, but overall it’s fun! Go play and see where it takes you.


Want more from Lisa? Check out her book, The Artistic Edge and read her blog right here. She also was a recent guest on the AOE LIVE show. It’s a great episode. Check it out!


What are some positive ways you encourage your students who want to pursue a career in the arts?

Any stories from your own experience?


Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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