Creatives: Get Paid What You’re Worth! Review of Real Artists Don’t Starve

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘artist’?

A simply-dressed man peddling his caricature drawings on the street talking to everyone who may care to listen. A woman who waits tables at the local diner in the day to support her actress ambitions.

Artist hard at work: Image Source: Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

Tell people you’re an artist and you get that slightly narrowed gaze or looks of pity. They directly ask or imply the question:

“How do you make money? Do you need to get a real job?”

Too often we’ve been told that a life in a creative pursuit does not make money. Or worse still, you have to ‘suffer for your art’ ala Vincent Van Gogh.

The idea of starving for your art is well depicted in… ironically, art.

2016’s wildly successful movie La La Land told the story of Mia and Sebastian; both struggling artists trying to make a living in acting and jazz, respectively. They are depicted as people who are divorced from reality in their pursuit of art. Or the Broadway musical Rent, about a group of impoverished artists struggling to make a living in New York City.

Is this what ‘suffering for your art’ looks like? Source: Giphy

Enter: The Principles of The Thriving Artist

Enter Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve with its bold title and idea.

“You can make a living as an artist”. Artists don’t need to starve. They can thrive.

Goins explores the following 12 principles in Real Artists Don’t Starve, compiled into the two graphics below:

One of the greatest pleasures of reading Goins’ books is that you know it will be thoroughly researched with a variety of stories and illustrations.

Like his previous book The Art of Work, his examples and stories for each chapter span historical figures (Michaelangelo) to household names in the music industry (Dr Dre), interviews with other creatives and entrepreneurs and personal anecdotes.

The stories help the book go beyond the fluffy self-help “You can do it!” tone it sometimes veers into. They help the book feel more relatable and real. The illustrations become stories in themselves and I learned a lot from the collection of stories — stories within a story, if you may.

Dude, You’ve Got This!

Real Artists Don’t Starve is brief, but reads like a friend putting his hand on your shoulder saying “Dude, you’ve got this! Here’s what you need to do next”.

This book is especially relevant for people who want to explore their creative side or wants to turn their creative side into a business.

Goins is encouraging, yet realistic. He avoids the common “Quit your job and pursue your passion” narrative oh-so-popular in this writing space, instead encouraging us to pursue your creative passions by apprenticing while holding down a full-time job.

On Being Paid For Your Work And ‘Exposure’

As someone who pursues writing and photography hobbies, the section on Money hit me the hardest. Creating for the sake of the love of the pursuit is one thing, but creative work involving money changes the dynamic of the relationship somehow.

And this part was an uncomfortable truth.

“You have to be willing to do the job of an artist, which includes more than just making things — it means charging what you’ve worth”.

I had questions whizzing through my head. Am I good enough to charge for this? What about working for free? Doesn’t it give me ‘exposure’?

This comic by The Oatmeal nails the problem in four panels.

Real Artists Don’t Starve, Go Forth And Create!

I highly recommend reading Real Artists Don’t Starve if you:

  1. Curious about the creative process and origin stories of famous creatives
  2. Have a creative hobby and you want to monetise it but you’re scared of what it takes
  3. Are interested in starting a side project and need step-by-step, actionable advice

With this book, Goins attempts to dispel the struggling tortured artist persona with practical step-by-step strategies to do life with your art.

Another more philosophical application of this book is inspired by an article I read on Medium by Mike Sturm.

In it, Strum writes:

We are all creatives. There is a place in all our work for creativity. Every kind of work can benefit from it. In fact, it is those jobs where we often don’t see a need for creativity that most badly need a creative touch.

That elusive and desirable thing that so many in the business world chase — innovation — is often a direct result of creative thinking in the very places that no one expects it. This is because creativity is what makes us human.

Create, because creating is what makes us human.

You are an artist and artists don’t need to starve. Go forth and create!

Buy the book on Amazon

Originally published at on December 1, 2017.



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Joshua Poh

Joshua Poh

Freelance writer and content marketer for B2B SaaS companies. More at