Michelangelo Didn’t Starve for His Art—Why Should You?

4 Strategies Entrepreneurs and Creatives Can Use to Learn From the Masters

We’ve all heard of the curse of the starving artist, right? If you’re interested in technique or design, you’re stuck suffering for your craft. But what if I told you that’s just a limiting belief holding you back?

Jeff Goins has good news for creatives in the business world: You don’t have to relegate yourself to poverty to do what you love. In fact, Jeff’s liberating truth is that with the right approach you just might thrive.

Michelangelo’s Bank Account

Jeff is a bestselling author of several books, the latest of which is Real Artists Don’t Starve. The notion that all great craftsmen are impoverished by their work is an old one, he explains. And it’s also dead wrong.

Take Michelangelo, who complained publicly that his craft had left him “poor, old, and working as a servant of others.” It turns out his bank deposits tell a different story.

According to art historian Rab Hatfield, that isn’t even close to true. By the time of his death, the man who gave us those unforgettable images in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel had amassed a fortune worth roughly $47 million today.

That revelation turned a key for Jeff. He realized that creatives can excel in the marketplace.

Work and Pay the Bills

When I talked with him about this recently, I pushed Jeff on the Michelangelo example: How sure was he that this wasn’t just an outlier?

Jeff had the same question, so he conducted “hundreds of one-on-one interviews with modern day creatives.” He spoke with “people whose names you probably never heard of before, unless you read the book,” and found out that “they’re thriving.”

Many of these artisans and entrepreneurs may not be incredibly wealthy like Michelangelo ended up, but they’ve found a way to make a living doing what they love. They share many strategies in common that Jeff identifies and explains so that other creatives can learn to apply what works in their own business.

Here are four I find broadly applicable:

1. Don’t Quit Your Day Job Right Away

As Jeff explained in an earlier guest post on this site aimed at entrepreneurs, it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing at the start. You can and should work up to it, crafting your product or service and finding a market for it so that you do not have to starve.

2. Strive for Quality Over Originality

Starving artists are often excessively stubborn and strive to be original in all things. In contrast, successful creatives understand that they have much to learn from others and the thing they really need to be stubborn about is quality. The most important question to ask yourself is this—are you giving your best effort to what you are putting out?

3. Start, Collaborate, and Listen

Starving artists work alone, in private. Successful creatives are willing to work with and learn from others. They’re often willing to work in public and solicit public feedback on their work, because they realize it’s a good path to both improvement and profit.

4. Think Enough About Money

Jeff understands that too much focus on money can be annoying for most of us, especially creative types. But he also insists that we ought to think enough about money so that we can continue to do what we love without worrying too much. “The thriving artist makes money to make more art,” he said.

Question: Have you ever felt like you had to choose between making money and doing what you love? What did you do? And what would you do differently today?

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