Say Goodbye to the Starving Artist Mentality

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Last week, Robert Brewer was competing for 2010
Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere
.

(Robert is editor of
Writer's Market, Poet's Market, and runs the very popular Poem-a-Day
challenge
in April.)

As the final hours of voting ticked by, he
and another poet were in a dead heat for the win. It's one of those
moments when you wonder if it's appropriate to call grade-school friends
to go and vote.

You might wonder why I cared so much.

Robert is one of the most generous and good-natured people I
know, and he's not only an invaluable contributor to Writer's
Digest, but he's a beacon of inspiration and encouragement to poets in
the online writing community.

So, I wanted to see his efforts
publicly recognized and rewarded.

In those final hours, something
remarkable happened.

The CEO of F+W sent a late-night e-mail to
all employees, asking them to support Robert's run for poet laureate of the blogosphere.

That
last-minute call ultimately put Robert over the top, though the
competition had become so contentious by that point the contest
organizer decided to call a tie
.

It was a bittersweet end.
Robert's affiliation with Writer's Digest had been used as a black mark
against him, since he works for a business. In other words, because there is a
commercial interest supporting him, the company that benefits from
his presence should not support him because that's unfair.

Two thoughts I have on this:

  1. Robert is a passionate poet, and he is passionate about helping other poets. That's a constant no matter who employs him. In the
    U.S., we have a bad habit of assuming people are their titles. (Go read
    THIS post.
    ) Robert is not his title; he is not his employer. He is
    Robert.
  2. There's an implicit judgment that poets (or artists)
    who are "starving" are more authentic and deserving than those who aren't struggling. (Go read Dana Gioia's take on this.)

Christina Katz
and I discussed this phenomenon when we attended AWP a couple years ago:
the persistent myth of the starving artist, or that real writers
eschew commercial concerns and are ill-suited for the workplace.

Christina
responded by pitching a session for 2010 (that was accepted) on The
Prosperous Writer.

It is her mission (as well as mine) to do
battle with this idea that artistry/creativity
cannot be mixed with business.

Here's a post that has an
interesting slant on this: "The corporation strikes back."

And
another interesting interview comes to mind, with the Whole
Foods CEO, which was featured in the New Yorker. Here's a small snippet:

Mackey is
adamant, and not merely unapologetic, that his company—any company—can
and should pursue profits and a higher purpose simultaneously, and that
in fact the pursuit of both enhances the pursuit of each.

Read
more at The New Yorker site.