Breaking the 'Starving Artist' Label

My fellow filmmakers and writers say that to be struggling and feeling like you are the underdog is the way that the best stories come – when we have something to say, be it rising up from a political injustice or just pouring our heart out though poetry after a messy breakup. Being the ‘starving artist’ fuels your art and gives you a solid and purpose-filled desire to create.

But to accept and perpetuate the label of starving artist can lead to many complications for the art produced as well as for the artist themselves. Your self esteem as well as your mental health suffer. You think your art has no value. You moan and groan and think the world is against you and you become a chore to hang out with.

With this in mind, I decided to list ways to avoid being caught in the trap of labelling yourself a starving artist and instead to start looking at being an artist as not just a positive life choice, but a feasible job occupation, far removed from the damaging label. It is not 'selling out' to make money from your art or to make it clear you want to be paid. You, and your art, deserve it.


Find what you actually like about your finished piece of art and talk positivity about that aspect, even if it's one thing. I am not saying not to be critical of the faults in your art, or to shut down all criticism, that would be arrogant, but do more positive talking and let it fuel your attitude as an artist. Start thinking that your work has value and start telling others that it's of value and pretty soon you will be rich with positivity and the belief will continue to grow. Being rich with positivity is an asset someone who labels themselves a 'starving artist' does not have. All starving artists have going for them is a negative value of their worth, their art's worth, and this shows through more than you would believe. It's not sexy to be mentally starving.

Photo Credit  Beata Ratuszniak

Photo Credit Beata Ratuszniak


That's right, stop advertising. When I say stop advertising, what I mean is stop telling the world that you are a starving artist. This rule goes for real life as well as online personas. This rule goes hand-in-hand with the previous rule of manifesting your success and thinking positive thoughts about yourself as an artist and your abilities. So, if I see you posting on your socials about how you are struggling and you use #starvingartist I will unsparingly use the orange faced angry emoji on you. It's not attractive to be always whining about your inability to sell your art, or how you eat two-minute noodles for dinner because nobody is clicking the link to your website. Imagine if we were networking after a film or art event and that is how you advertised yourself to a fellow artist (who could have been a potential client or an ongoing fan of your art) – it's not attractive to advertise and label yourself a 'starving artist'. Ever.

Two years ago (or maybe a little longer now) I dropped the negative attitude I had towards others who ignore or don't see my social posts asking for funding or for them to support my work by clicking a link. I once used #supportindiefilm as my go-to film hashtag under my film promotion posts – how sad! I have since dropped the 'support' part and changed my attitude. Sure, when people don't support my film premieres by putting their money where their mouth is, it hurts, but I am not going to blame them for my art's failure, low numbers at screenings, or lack of audience attention, I am just going to change my game plan for next time.


With so much knowledge available to us through the massive amount of information technology we walk around with in our pockets each day through our smart phones, it's astonishing that people are not educating themselves on a regular basis and becoming smarter. Website along with apps on our phones can help us get wiser, learn a skill or just and open our minds to new perspectives. The biggest one everyone will already know of is YouTube. When on the site just type in 'how to' into the search box and get learning. Right now I am learning how to build my own drop-shipping website through a YouTube tutorial video as I want to create extra income that gives me flexibility as a business person and I am finding it extremely helpful.

There are also TED Talks, a collection of videos where inspirational and everyday people talk about a wide range of global issues on an endless amount of topics. The good thing about these online TED Talk videos is that they are short yet informative, thus they make for good listening and viewing on public transport, on lunch breaks or even when added to your morning routine. To learn a new language go to Duolingo or even Memrise, these apps will give you the basics for communicating with people and clients from other countries. Of course for general knowledge who can forget Wikipedia!

Learning new things and new skills everyday gives you an edge, it can give you confidence and can help you to become more engaged with people, and this in turn will help you move away from the starving artist label.

Sarah Jayne give a talk.

Sarah Jayne give a talk.


I read recently that we can find ourselves spending time with individuals who's qualities and insecurities mirror our own. I guess we are drawn to do this because these recognisable qualities give us a shared understanding on the world around us. If this is true, then what if your people thrive on the romanticism associated with the label starving artist? They wear the label like a badge of honour symbolizing their inclusion to an exclusive club. Just like the Mean Girls “you can't sit with us” type mentality drives their motivations, causing them to stay stagnant in their mindset. This is their delusional claim to coolness. To be fair, not many people who want to sit with them anyway, as they are so caught up in finding ways to keep pushing the fact that they are the underdog, the ones the world does not understand, the artists giving real meaning to art. Don't get me wrong, I have felt like the underdog, and this can push you to make great art, but constantly thinking the world is against you because you are an artist is not cool. Having friends who back up these claims and feel the same themselves about their own art is even worse. The cycle will keep turning if you allow it to, and if you sleep with dogs then you wake with fleas.


What's the value of your art, the value of your creative energy and ideas? As an artist this is up to you to decide. Choose a minimum you would be willing to work and stick to it. Setting this personal goal for yourself will make a difference to not only your view of your own self worth, it will also earn you the respect you deserve in the industry you wish to be a part of and get people knowing that you are worth every cent. Of course when you are new and starting off (and I use my experience as an indie filmmaker here) working for free, or for benefits like accommodation and a credit, is a good way to get the experience you need before you move forward to paid work. But if you are labelling yourself as starving artist, yet you continue to work for free, and get out of bed for less than you are worth, more often than not you will be in the same position each year. Make a stand with your own value to make a change.


Scrolling on social media can be a downer. You most likely have a lot of your peers on your feeds and this can lead to comparisons. Comparing your journey with that of a fellow artists is one of the most damaging things you can do. I don't care if so-and-so's film made it into Tribeca Film Festival, if your crowd funding campaign is receiving less attention then similar campaigns, or if that scholarship to art school in New York your best friend just worked her butt off for was a success. These achievements are part of other people's journey as artists, not yours. It's so easy to fall into this trap of comparing ourselves to others with so much thrown into our faces all the time on social media. So stop scrolling. But if you must scroll and look at the achievements of others, simply say “I am happy for them” and “good for them” and then continue making your own art, your own way.

Written by Sarah Jayne