Stop Romanticizing The “Starving Artist”

talk, Uncategorized



Still from Into the Wild


I was in an art-school class with a girl from the suburbs (I live in the city), and she was telling me about her plans after high school, living as a drifting artist on the street.  I couldn’t help but roll my eyes because she’d obviously been watching too many films.  I was telling another friend about lunch, which involved an intrusive (guy-wouldn’t-leave) downtown encounter with a possibly homeless man at a restaurant, and he asked me, “Didn’t you ask the guy if he had a cool story?”

I just bite my tongue in most of these situations, but I’m really tired of the “starving artist” aesthetic – like really fucking tired of it.  I’m tired of the romantic notion of “life on the street.”  Not being able to fulfill basic human needs (shelter, food, water) and social needs (going out, friendship, intimacy) is embarrassing and disheartening, not romantic.  Stop glorifying the struggles a lot of people face for your “artistic aesthetic.”


Some kids on the street are queer and decided to leave home when the intolerance became unbearable, or they were kicked out when their parents found the dress in their closet.  They had nowhere else to go.  Meanwhile, kids who are bored in the suburbs – or fresh in the city – are looking for adventure in poverty.  They’ve read one too many books by Jack Kerouac, or worse Into to Wild, and think they have something to “conquer” in the wild.


Not the gross, imperialistic attitude – the same one the wealthy have used against the “lower class” for generations.


A middle-class, suburb kid going on about their idyllic trip across the country, hopping trains, is unaware that some kids (probably standing nearby) grew up with working-class challenges.  In my case, mom was always caught late at work pulling overtime hours and dad, who lived his own version of the “starving artist” couldn’t provide the basics for his kids.  We had to grow up on instinct because our parents weren’t around.




Still from Into the Wild


As you grow, you learn that all the films are lies – being unable to provide for yourself or your family is dehumanizing.  We all want to live in a nice place, be surrounded by people who treat us well and have the ability to take care of ourselves, but many kids don’t grow up here. Some parents struggle to accept their situation and- instead the smell of whiskey, verbal threats and mood swings, the unpredictability and not knowing what kind of house you’re going to step into after school is reality.  Family dinner is an alien concept.


When a family’s struggling financially, the phrase “time is money” is a fact of life.

Working 60+ hours a week to pay the rent and other bills is not unheard of, and that time starts to cut into nights out (or nights in) with friends, family, or partners.  As a kid, you just want everyone to be happy, and when they’re not, the feelings of guilt start to creep in.  You wonder what you might’ve done wrong.  Stress is ubiquitous, and some of us feel down, anxious and/or alone.


I can’t speak for life on the street, but I imagine there are loads of people you don’t know making assumptions about your lifestyle in between really fucking cold nights on rough concrete.  This I know – middle-class kids going on about their romantic tour of the States via freight train don’t have the instinct.  When you grow up in a place that doesn’t provide the basics, you learn to fill those holes yourself.


You grow up fast and learn to take care of yourself, so you don’t understand these middle-class kids bragging about “roughing it.”  Not having the cash for groceries sucks.


–    Jenn Endless

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