The Progression of the Starving Artist

     This is something I worked out a few years ago, but never did anything with. Recently, something happened that brought it to mind and made me think I really should post it:

     The Friday before Thanksgiving I was on a Science Fiction panel at the Philadelphia Book Fair. All four of the panelists were full time writers. At one point, the discussion got around to a favorite topic of authors: money. Ah hem. I was the only one of the four who didn't have the wisdom to marry a spouse who was willing to subsidize my writing, therefore, I was the only one stuck trying to live on the small amount of money one makes writing SF. Hey, I'm a full time Science Fiction writer. Almost by definition, I qualify as a starving artist.

     I should tell you up front these classifications apply only to men, I'm not sure I've ever known a woman beyond her late twenties who qualified as a starving artist. I don't know why, maybe women have more sense than to put up with poverty and either give it up as a bad go or find a husband to support them.

     Here goes.

     In his twenties a starving artist is a romantic figure. Women -- mostly young women -- really go for him. He's invited places and is given a lot of leeway. Most people humor him, secure in the knowledge that he'll grow out of it pretty soon and get a proper job.

     A starving artist in his thirties is a different matter altogether. He may still be a romantic figure, but mostly he's perceived as really dedicated. Gotta be dedicated to live in poverty for so long while pursuing one's muse. In circles where the arts are honored, thirtyish starving artists are respected. To people who don't honor the arts, on the other hand, he's a bum. Regardless, the thirtyish starving artist may not be invited to as many places as when he was a bit younger, and fewer women find him all that intimately interesting. That's only to be expected. When one works that hard for that long with so little in the way of reward, one tends to become a bit soured on society, and may no longer be very good company. By this age, 90% or more of the previous decade's starving artists have dropped out and gotten proper jobs.

     There aren't very many starving artists in their forties. Almost all who haven't had enough success by this age to be making a decent living (which is tougher than you might think. James Michener said of it, "You can't make a living writing novels. You can make a fortune, but you can't make a living.") have either given up or found someone to support them, and no longer qualify as starving artists. For those few who do, the attitude is, "Grow up, fella. Get a proper job and become a productive member of society." This person is not at all a romantic figure and rarely gets invited anywhere. Many women would go for someone with as much perseverance and dedication as he displays -- if only he'd get a proper job.

     Face it, a starving artist in his fifties is a hopeless case. If you haven't made it by this time and you're still trying, you gotta be out of your flipping gourd. Most women avoid the starving artist in his fifties. By now, poverty has exhausted him and probably cost him half his teeth. He may well be thinking of hanging it up and getting a proper job. Unfortunately, just about nobody will give him a proper job, so he's stuck unless he's willing to spend his work hours asking, "You want fries with that?" Oh well. If he's been a starving artist this long, something better might be too much of a shock to his system.

     The starving artist in his sixties is, well, it's sad. Premature onset of senility, you know. Gee, if only he'd gotten a proper job when he was young he might have made something of himself.

     Seventies and beyond. You're kidding me, right? Starving artist? Come on, he's not a starving artist, no way! He's in his second childhood. Don't worry if his social security isn't enough to maintain him in a flop house because he didn't have a proper job to provide him with a pension to go along with it, and the children he probably doesn't have anyway won't take care of him. Give him the price of a bottle of Thunderbird and point him toward a convenient steam vent or soup kitchen.

     Whatever the age, being a starving artist ain't easy. I guess that's why so few make it beyond their twenties. For those of us who stick it out for long enough, well, there are easier ways to die than getting a proper job.