Are you a Starving Artist or a Thriving Artist?

I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. The myth that an artist need to be miserable to great things.

Hollywood sure helped to strengthen the image of the suffering artist, literally starving in her damp and dark studio, hoping that someone will one day buy into her art. And maybe you’ve heard the stories about the old masters, living miserable lives up until the day when they finally succeeded.

It’s probably true. They were starving. And yet they were creating art that would outlive them by hundreds of years. But it is easy to forget one thing. They were living in the past. EVERYONE was frikking starving back then, unless you were one of the happy one percent living in a castle with servants that were picking fresh coconuts from the garden in the morning. People threw their toilette waste in the streets and just being in the same zip code as a rat would give you the plague. If your house happened to catch fire it would burn the entire city because the fire department consisted of badly trained men with shiny helmets and a huge bottle of water on wheels.

But they had an urge to create, despite the cards they’d been dealt.


Your own mind decides if you are going to succeed

Scientists have known for quite some time that in in the event of danger, your mind will limit your focus to a few options. Usually, fight or flight. Imagine finding yourself face to face with a vicious tiger in the middle of nowhere, while out hunting for your tribe (of waking up and realizing your house is on fire and the water-bottle fire department ain’t gonna be here in time to pull you out). You’ll have to make a quick decision. So negative feelings like anger, fear or worry, will narrow your mind.

But what haven’t been as widely known, is that positive feelings (joy, hope, gratitude, confidence among others) will do the opposite! If you have a positive mindset, you will actually become more creative!


The true story of the eight time-travelers

I believe (and so does science, stick around and I tell you more about it..) that your mindset affects your physical life. A lot.

Let me tell you about a scientific experiment that took place around 1980. I love this story – and it is completely true.

A scientist named Ellen Langer invited 8 men, all in their seventies, to a week-long retreat. They received no information about the retreat itself, only that they could not bring anything that was dated after 1959. No books, images, music or alike.


Wherever you put the mind, you’re necessarily putting the body

– Ellen Langer, the scientist behind the Counterclockwise Study


When they arrived at their temporary home for the upcoming week, they realized that everything inside was set to look like the year of 1959, when the eight men were twenty years younger. Book and magazines laying around, music or TV programs, everything. The group was told to LIVE like it was actually 1959. Talk about political events of yesteryear, wear clothes from back then, there were no mirrors, photos or anything else that would remind the men that they were actually no in their 50’s.

The result after a week was astonishing. 63% of the men had a better result on the intelligence tests, they had improved their posture, memory, hearing, and vision (among other things). Independent volunteers who were asked to look at pictures of the men in the group, and they guessed the age of the men in the “after” pictures on average two years younger.

Just by changing their mindset that they were two decades younger than they actually were, they BECAME younger. In just one week. (Here’s Langer’s book about the experiment!)

There’re countless other scientific studies in the field of positive psychology from the last twenty years that are coming to the same conclusion; what you think affects your wellness and success. The way you think will affect the outcome of your life.


Are you a Thriving or a Starving artist?

If you buy into the Starving Artist myth, you might very well create obstacles for yourself. You will actually make it harder to succeed. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, you can change your mindset to become a Thriving Artist. The first step is to notice the negative thoughts. I wrote a post about Limiting Beliefs, (together with a PDF that you can download from the Cardboard Toolbox!) that could be a good starting point.

A starving artist will think that putting effort on how to make money, will take away time from making good work. A thriving artist understands that if she’s got enough money to live, she will be able to nurture her passion and become better.

A starving artist would never market her art, but believe that good art will sell itself. A thriving artist loves the act of sharing her process and result and knows that it will not only make the world a better place but also find her new customers.

A starving will go into herself during hard times, shut everyone else out, try to squeeze out her art, like the last piece of toothpaste from the tube. A thriving artist knowns that social networks, families, and friends are one of the main pillars when it comes to building a stable platform for creativity.


Why Fake It Till You Make It actually works.

Yes, that old expression is actually one of the best rules to live by. This is not about lying or cheating. If you act like you already live the artistic life that you want, two things will happen.

First, people around you will start noticing what you are doing. Someone being passionate about what she doe is one of the most magnetic traits of a person. If they see you acting that you are already succeeding – doing what you love – you will be perceived as successful.

Secondly, you will set yourself up for success, as long as you believe that you actually can. If you know – really believe – that the story you want to tell will actually make a difference, you will find (most of the time unconsciously) ways to get there.


Creating art doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be hard. Not today. You have all the tools to live an amazing and creative life. There’s no need to starve, take a part-time job.

There’s no need to lock yourself in your studio, to fight through hard times – you have millions of people around you all the time, willing to help.

Realize that the Starving Artist myth is nothing for you and become a Thriving Artist!

Yeeehaaaa! 🙂


Here’s the latest post:

Jens Lennartsson
Written by
Jens Lennartsson

I want more people to create and become more fulfilled persons. I’m an artist and storyteller, living in Sweden. Most comfortable in my 1973 Mercedes camper van.

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  1. janice

    I have been following for a while, and enjoying your work from afar! But I am building to a new year, some new attitudes and some new habits, and this article speaks to some of that. I am also reading “Real Artists Don’t Starve” by Jeff Goins, and it has been a good start in changing some of the attitudes!
    thanks for opening up the tool box. I am going to download the pdf’s once I am home (currently travelling around Australia) and put them in my journal. I especially like the idea of writing about the senses, what I see, hear, smell etc. I am hoping to incorporate this idea into my blog – with phots – I will link back to your blog, and let you know when that happens.
    thanks again.

    1. Jens Lennartsson

      Hej Janice!
      I had this feeling that someone was following me…. 😉
      Thank you so much!

      When you have finished the book, please send me an email and let me know the biggest takeaways it gave – I’d be happy to read it later

      And when you have printed the PDF, take a picture and send/tag me. Would love to see how it looks in the wild 🙂