Why The Starving Artist Myth Should Starve And Die

We recently sat down with Morgan Teel, Dance Waterloo’s Founder and Artistic Director, to talk about the myth of the “starving artist” and any misconceptions that people may have about the field.

Why do you feel like the starving artist myth should starve and die?

Several reasons. I come at it from my work perspective. I work with high school students interested in art and 2 or 3 times a week I get questions from parents who say things like ‘I just want my kid to have a job’ or ‘My kid is gonna be a starving artist!’

It makes it sound like art isn’t of economic value when it actually generates a ton of money. When people think of “starving artists”, they think art is not of value.

The Skinny:

Creativity continues to be deemed one of the most important skills that employers look for, and 72% of business leaders prioritize creativity when making hiring decisions.

Where do you think the idea of the starving artist comes from?

I think it originates from childhood. Kids go to school and then after school they take a dance class or painting class and it’s just an extracurricular. Its supplemental and not a core part of sustainable life.

Dance Waterloo’s Storybook Dance Making class

It starts from the get go when you hit school at 5 years old. Unless it’s fully embedded and valued as much as math and science, then it is viewed as an extracurricular. If it’s not ingrained in the school system as the same value, its setting generations up to always view art as supplemental.

The Skinny: 

Although the idea that art is only extracurricular exists, 1 out of 15 Texans work in a creative field and an average salary for someone in the creative field is roughly 80k as opposed to 44k for people who are not in a creative field.

What are some stigmas/misconceptions about artists?

I also think “starving artists” came from the stigma that artists are always carefree and free-spirited and not organized or structured and just go with the flow.

I think there’s this view of what an artist’s personality is like (to non-artists). That their personality is just like “I live day to day – just getting by” and “I don’t need anything other than my guitar”.

How is art essential to the economy?

 Artists are so central to the city. I think artists have the opportunity to reach people in ways that other fields can’t. Art does two things – increases economic vitality and brings communities together to understand each other’s culture, race, and occupation.

In terms of economic vitality, art creates energy, tourism, innovations and people in business. When you think about Austin in general and how big of a boom there is to live here, think about why people want to live here.

Dance Waterloo’s Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly

Yes, they have a job because the company moved. Austin is a happening place, and it all stems from us. It’s because of the art. It’s not possible to grow a healthy and vibrant city without investing in the arts. When there’s not an investment in arts/artists, the city is not a popular place to be. Businesses aren’t moving there and employers aren’t moving there.

The Skinny: 

$5.5 billion is contributed to the Texas economy by the arts. The arts also represent 756k business (1.4% of all businesses) and bring in over $22 billion that contribute to different arenas of government revenue.

What needs to change?

Change needs to take place on both sides – for the already grown adult, art needs to be more accessible and right in their face so they can see the value of it. If you’re already a grown adult and don’t have a high interest in the arts – you’re not going to go see a show or buy a painting unless the art goes to where you already are. Public art can be a catalyst for change and change the view of what artists do and who they are.

I also think initiation needs to start in preschool and kindergarten by having arts as equal and essential as math and science. Creativity and creative thinking is fundamental and essential to all life and any kind of employment.

The Skinny:  

The president has proposed a budget that completely cuts out all National Endowment for the Arts funding. That would mean that $148 million would no longer be available to support artists all around the country.

The Senate Finance Committee has also proposed a 34% cut to the Texas Commission on the Arts funding, which is more than any other state.

Art is not extracurricular, it’s essential to economy. Art brings communities together and cities cannot truly thrive without a vibrant art scene. If we want to see the starving artist myth actually starve and die, that is going to come from communities and education seeing art as essential and not extracurricular.

Other resources:






Jasmine Crowley

Journalism Intern

Dance Waterloo

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