Real Artists Don’t Starve

Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age

This week’s book summary is Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the famous artists of the past (like Michelangelo) were not “dirt poor” but were very wealthy thanks to their art endeavors! Goins dispels the myth of the starving artist and then masterfully explains twelve principles that are required to develop a successful enterprise as an artist. I have briefly summarized these principles below.

  1. You Aren’t Born an Artist – Although people are genetically pre-disposed to certain talents that facilitate specific skills, this genetic code does not guarantee success. Everyone must work to develop their skills, talents, and gifts. Creativity requires hard work not genetics or magic!
  2. Stop Trying to Be Original – Don’t waste a bunch of time trying to create something totally unique and original. Instead, build your work on the shoulders of giants who have gone before you. Take their work, rearrange it, mix it with other experiences you have had, and add your insight and personal flair!
  3. Apprentice Under a Master – You cannot become great on your own. Your skills and talents are not enough on their own. You must find an expert to mentor and coach you to greatness. They will show you things that you may never learn on your own.
  4. Harness Your Stubbornness – You need to be stubborn enough to persevere against all odds while being flexible enough to pivot and leverage opportunities. Take Jeff Bezo’s advice and be stubborn on vision but flexible on details.
  5. Cultivate Patrons – Every person needs an influencer that will stand up for them and connect them to the people they need for success. We cannot be passive about this patron. We each need to actively seek out a patron and provide value to them so they will work with you in turn.
  6. Go Join a Scene – Go to where the action is. You cannot be successful in your field in isolation. Find a community of like-minded people and become an active participant and contributor in that community. Silicon Valley is a prime example of this. Remember that you build a network by giving more than you take!
  7. Collaborate with Others – Build on your genius by collaborating with others and contributing to their genius. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis met together regularly with a group they called the Inklings to discuss ideas, concepts, books, etc. “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.” C.S. Lewis
  8. Practice in Public – Get your work out into the public. This helps you build an audience and provides a source of invaluable feedback that can help shape your work and perfect your abilities.
  9. Don’t Work for Free – Working for free does not pay the bills. Charge what you are worth based on the value that you provide. Don’t undervalue your work.
  10. Own Your Work – Don’t sell out to an early bidder. Retain the rights to your work as much as possible so that your net worth increases as your public profile grows.
  11. Diversity Your Portfolio – Build a diverse body of work. Specialization and mastering a specific skill are great. Leveraging this skill into an extensive body of work is key to a solid portfolio.
  12. Make Money to Make Art – Money should never be the main impetus of an endeavor. However, without money your ability to practice your art will be extremely limited.

My takeaway from this book is that it applies to any area of expertise and not just to what we have defined as a traditional artist. It doesn’t matter if you are a mechanic, landscaper, therapist, engineer, doctor, or business person, these 12 principles of a thriving artist apply equally to your profession. Follow these 12 principles and you will thrive!



Note that I have previously reviewed the following books in 2017:

  1. Les McKeown’s Predictable Success
  2. Exponential Organzations by Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone and  Yuri van Geest
  3. Smart Thinking by Art Markman
  4. Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution
  5. RG LeTourneau’s Mover of Men and Mountains
  6. Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable
  7. Ram Charan’s The Attacker’s Advantage
  8. Jeff Goins’s The Art of Work
  9. Ron Karr’s Lead, Sell, or Get Out of the Way
  10. Timothy Ferriss’s Tools of Titans
  11. Dr. David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain
  12. Howard Schultz’z Onward
  13. Nicholas Eberstadt’s Men Without Work
  14. Jason Fried’s and David Heinemeier Hansson’s Remote
  15. VALVE Employee Handbook
  16. Dr. Mark Hyman’s The Ultramind Solution


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