Book Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve

Real Artists Don’t Starve:  Timeless Strategies For Thriving In The New Creative Age, by Jeff Goins

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

A good lesson from this book is that real douchebags shouldn’t write books.  Generally speaking, it is not wise for someone to insult their targeted audience–in this case creative types–and this author demonstrates throughout this book that while he has some good points to make that he needs a bit more finishing at charm school before he is ready for the big time as a writer about the relationship between art and commerce [1].  After having read this book, I feel somewhat torn between wanting to rip into the author’s total lack of empathy and understanding and his dodgy theology of the relationship of art and suffering and giving him well-deserved praise for seeking to provide a model by which artists can thrive in creating work that not only nourishes the spirit but gives encouragement to others and also serves for the benefit of the artist, so I suppose I will do a bit of both.  This is a book that has a lot to offer, if a reader can get beyond the snarky tone and relentless sales pitch of the author’s approach.  Rarely has so much useful content been put in such an unpleasant and unpalatable context.

The slightly more than two-hundred pages of this book are divided into three parts.  The first part looks at the mind-set of a successful artist–knowing that it requires a great deal of effort, that it involves the appropriation and internalization of influences, that it can best be done through apprenticeship with masters, and that stubbornness has to be properly harnessed and disciplined.  The second part of the book is a look at the market for creative people, encouraging artists to cultivate patrons, join a scene, collaborate others, and practice in public (bloggers get special mention and praise here).  The third part of the book encourages artists to avoid and refuse working for free, own their own work, diversify their portfolio by acquiring many skills and developing a variety of interests, and making money in order to make art.  The book ends with an altar call of sorts for artists to join a “new renaissance” that seeks to provide a greater deal of financial security for creative people similar to the way that Renaissance artists plundered the artistic wealth of the Greco-Roman world in order to blaze a trail for greater honor and wealth for themselves.

There is a good deal to praise about this book.  The discussion is immensely practical, the revisionist history about artists and how they came to prominence through a combination of skill and opportunity is useful, and the narrative of thriving is a worthwhile counterbalance to the prevailing narrative of suffering artistry.  Nevertheless, the book itself has a certain smugness of attitude that proclaims that if an artist is suffering than they are doing something wrong, an attitude that smacks of the bad theology of Job’s friends or of the prosperity gospel.  One can agree with the idea that acting appropriately and wisely ought to generally lead to thriving without taking that idea to extremes, and this author has an unfortunate tendency to get carried away by his rhetoric and led into extreme positions that are unsound even if they work as general rules.  Ultimately, for someone to avoid being led into extremes, they have to treat this book as a useful and practical guide to success at art that encourages caution and prudence, rather than listening to the overheated rhetoric of the title and occasional snarky comments of the author.  This is a book to be read, but to be read with discernment rather than uncritically.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Book Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve

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