Why Artists Starve

Goda Smilingyte
4 min readMay 5, 2024
Photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash

I hate stigmas and stereotypes and starving artist stigma is the one I hate the most.

There is no other profession in the World that would be stigmatized in the way artist’s are — even people doing the lowest paid jobs are not described as starving.

Whether you are watching a film or reading a book where one of the characters is an artist — he/she/they will always be portrayed as poor, struggling and possibly depressed or crazy.

Despite numerous success stories of artist’s becoming famous and wealthy, society still considers them “poor”.

There are two main reasons why:

  1. A lot of prominent artists have spent their life in poverty and became famous only after they died, meaning — someone else has been and is still making money from their art.
  2. Artists do earn low income. A report compiled by Artfinder in 2017 revealed that in the US three quarters of artists made $10,000 or less per year from their art, and almost half (48.7%) made no more than $5,000 (more details here). In 2018 The Creative Independent surveyed more than thousand artists internationally. Only 14% indicated that they are earning more than $60,000 a year and only 3% rated their financial situation as completely financially stable (full report here).

Take a look at auction results — the most expensive artworks are created by artists who did not live a rich life and are already dead.

Buy there is more to this and here is the list I compiled for my recent eBook “Can Art Sell?”

1. The art market is centralized, controlled by a circle of galleries, collectors and auction houses.

These aunts and uncles decide who’s going to be the next big star in the art world and breaking into this circle is not easy (it makes things easier if you are dead).

2. Art education institutions teach only about art.

Young artists don’t learn much about presenting themselves, showing their work, talking and writing about their art — they are not taught to communicate about their art. Not to mention the business side — marketing, sales and finance management.

3. Artists are not not learning how to become financially stable.

The same report by The Creative Independent I have quoted earlier identifies that even 74% of surveyed artists are learning about financial stability through trial and error. They are not seeking formal education, taking courses or doing their own research on generating income and managing finances.

4. Common belief that living artists who are making money are not real artists.

It is difficult to say where does this come from and who nurtures it, a deeper research is needed in order to explain this stereotype in more detail, but my intuitive opinion is that this belief is promoted by artists themselves (including those who teach the young generation), because:

  • they don’t earn enough and this is how they justify their situation,
  • they believe that making art for money makes art worse,
  • they don’t want their competitors to be successful,
  • a lot blue chip artists were poor and this generates a perception that all good artists must be poor,
  • continue the list: ______________________________________________

5. Artists are focused only on selling their artworks

Because of the reasons mentioned above, artists become obsessed with earning money only from their actual artworks. They do not consider other options of doing creative work and earning money and this does not include commissions only. There are many ways artists could earn money, a few examples: illustrations, collaborations with brands, interior decor / murals, editions. In fact, The Creative Independent report suggests that the top income source for 61% of artists is freelance work and only 12% indicated that their top income comes from gallery representation.

6. Not many artists are using new technologies and techniques

The market constantly offers new, innovative art supplies and technology allows artists to experiment with various mediums, however, not many are willing to implement new tools and materials into their creative process and explore possibilities offered by the digital world — software, coding and AI. Because it is always easier to stick to the things you already know than accepting a challenge of learning something new (especially if you are not sure where it will take you).

If you are ready to get rid of the “starving artist” stigma and dive deeper into the subject of selling art — check out my recent eBook “Can Art Sell?” available for download at my online art gallery ArtGoda.com. Free sample is available too.



Goda Smilingyte

I help passionate art collectors and talented artists meet each other via my online art gallery artgoda.com.