A recent comment regarding poor artists really got to me. In a local newspaper regarding a recent article on funding sources for poor artists, it was said that most of the poor starving artist "set", were nothing but bohemians living in squalor.
It is easy to call anyone who thinks and lives differently than you a bohemian. Like the term "liberal", the angry folk of our world have attempted to turn both terms negative. But as one of those poor starving artists, I consider my "bohemian lifestyle" a badge of honor.
To me it means that I've set aside the conventional definition of what a person should do with their life. I've set aside a daily job. I've set aside a big house with lots of toys. I've set aside the limitations that these things impose upon a person.
More than bohemian, I take offense at the word "Squalor". Living an alternative lifestyle does not mean squalor! Clutter yes. I admit clutter can swirl around me like a sirocco. I am a collector who uses what he finds in his work. But I do not live in squalor. I love nice clean sheets on my bed, a clean kitchen and a clean body.
This opinion is a misrepresentation of what it means to be a poor starving artist. For me it means the decision whether I put a project aside because I don't have enough paints to complete it, or putting aside eating lunch for a week. It means not being able to go out with friends because I want that ten dollars for glue.
The daily decisions that most make without even thinking become a concern to the poor artist. I want to attend a free art lecture in the city, but I can't afford to park my car (if you even have a car). So do I lose a day taking the bus in and out of the city to attend that lecture or do I pass it up even if it could benefit me?
How do I make the most out of that $20.00 to get enough food to last me two weeks? Will I be too tired to continue to paint because I've allowed me body to get malnourished?
These are the crisis that often face the poor starving artist. But we weather them because what we do counts! What we do has a greater meaning in our lives than working 9-5 and being miserable even if we have all the toys and a full stomach.
It angers me that poor artists have such a negative image in today's society. When I say that the voice of the poor artist is only heard through their work, I mean it. There is no greater tool that we have than what we create. It speaks in a way that words never can. It tells the world of our desires, our passions, our despairs. Most of all it tells the world that we too count even if we are not doing what society thinks we should be doing.
Ultimately these may be the most important pieces of art out there because they come from the deepest parts of the spirit. They come from anguish and pain.
I recently read a story about a homeless man who was a jewelry maker. His work was exquisite, when he could afford to make it that is. He'd lived on the street quite some time when he decided he must change his situation, so with the help of a few friends he gathered some meager materials to start his craft and still being homeless he went to the city to get a permit to sell on the street. That was when they told him he'd need $500 for the permit and insurance.
Bless his heart he took a piece of cardboard and wrote upon it that he needed help to get off the street and to afford a permit to sell his work and people gave. He got the permits and the insurance and started making a living for himself out on the street still homeless.
Now most would say "good for him, he picked himself up by his bootstraps and made something of himself". But the story just made me sad that the man had to go through so much just to allow him to be an artist.
This cavalier attitude towards the poor, that if we just worked harder we'd be fine is perhaps the biggest myth of all regarding the poor artist. Many artists don't make it not because they aren't working their asses off but because they've never gotten the break of being noticed or having someone believe in their work and want to support that work until the artist is doing well.
In the end it comes down to living our lives and creating our work with meaning or entering the world of superficiality that a large percentage of the rest of society lives in.
So when you read an article about a poor starving artist, try to remember what we really are and that we represent something that many others do not have the courage to do. Support them even if its just with a word of encouragement. Let them know they have meaning too!
Or one day we will all be gone and the world will fade into the shades of gray which mean that we no longer have beauty in our lives. That would be a very sad place.