In “Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age”, author Jeff Goins challenges the assumption that all artists and creative professionals have to live as starving artists. Artists, he says buy into this myth because they hold onto several limiting beliefs. One of the top limiting beliefs on Goins’ list is the belief that money and art are incompatible. That belief reinforces the cultural belief in “art for art’s sake” but it does nothing to support the artist.

Goins argues that this belief (and at least 8 or 9 others) are the primary reason that many creative professionals live under the financial and creative potential. Our society has accepted that only a relatively few artists become financially successful while others have to scrounge around for pennies while secretly hoping for a “big break”.

“Real Artists Don’t Starve” is a wake-up call and manifesto to artists to stop waiting for your “15 minutes of fame” and create a thriving business while you create your art.

Let’s take a look a further look at the book.

Myth of the Starving Artist: Why Michelangelo Was Far From Poor (or Starving!)

Jeff Goins starts off his modern call to the artist by taking a fresh new look at the past. He begins with the story of Michelangelo, an artist who we assume fit the “starving artist” myth. We can imagine him painting the Sistine Chapel for one of the richest patrons in his history while surviving on a frugal life. Michelangelo, himself, even commented on how frugal his life was: “I am a poor man and of little worth, who is laboring…”

The truth, however, may actually be far different than we expect. 

As “Real Artists Don’t Starve” shares, a historian decided to follow the paper trail of money for the Michelangelo’s work. What the historian actually found was quite surprising. 

Michelangelo was astoundingly rich.

As the book shares, the historian estimated that Michelangelo had a fortune of $47 million dollars (in today’s dollars)

Breaking Free of the Starving Artist Myth

After dropping that historical bombshell, Jeff Goins goes on to explain the principles he claims were key to helping artists like Michelangelo maintain a creative and profitable life at the same time. Goins offers these principles (or rules) in direct opposition to the unwritten assumptions he says guides the starving artist.

Three of those unwritten assumptions that maintain the “starving artist” myth include:

  • Originality: Belief that artists must create truly original work (Jeff Goins’ response: Rule of Creative Theft-Nothing we ever create is truly original. It’s an original recombination of old ideas.)
  • Lone Genius: Belief that a truly gifted artist must work alone (Jeff Goins’ response: Rule of Collaboration-Great artists support and are supported by communities with various roles.)
  • Broke: Belief that artists must remain “starving artists” unless they get a “big break”. (Jeff Goins’ response: Rule of The Audience-Artists don’t hide their talent until the “right time”.)


Business Applications: Shifting from Starving Artist to Thriving Creative Business

“Real Artists Don’t Starve” isn’t a business book for creative professionals. Rather it’s a “business mindset “book. This book prepares artists to challenge beliefs that block them from getting more business.

Based on the rules mentioned in his book, there are a few things that any artist (or creative professional) can start today to start down the path of the thriving artist. These things include:

    1. Build a consistent routine. This step will develop the discipline you need for on-demand creativity.
    2. Build multiple streams of income. Don’t put all of your financial eggs in one creative basket. Look for ways to leverage your talent into more income (like teaching, writing, etc.)
    3. Network with a variety of people.  It takes an audience of different people to support an artist. Take time to connect with people of various backgrounds and experiences. Not only will this help your creativity, it will expand your potential new supporters, patrons, and potential buyers.
    4. Stop waiting for your “Big Break”. Start setting up your own mini-breaks into greatness.  Stop waiting for your “moment” because it probably won’t happen like you expect it to. Instead, create your opportunities by gradually stepping out of your creative comfort zone with projects that require more skill, responsibility, and risk. This is how you set yourself for continued success.

Welcome the New Renaissance of the Thriving Artist

By breaking out of these limiting beliefs, including the three mentioned above, Jeff Goins hopes to introduce readers to what he calls the New Renaissance, an era where artists and creative professionals embrace their creative and entrepreneurial sides. By embracing the entrepreneurial and creative aspects of art, artists can finally step into their potential. This might not include a million-dollar bank account like Michelangelo, but it might include more financial freedom and more time creating the art you are ready to release to the world.


Image of Michlangelo: By Jacopino del Conte – GEO Epoche: Die italianissima che Renaissance., Public Domain,