Enjoy millions of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more

Only $11.99/month after trial. Cancel anytime.

Real Artists Don't Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age

Real Artists Don't Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age

Read preview

Real Artists Don't Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age

4.5/5 (13 ratings)
245 pages
3 hours
Jun 6, 2017

Also available as...


Also available as...



Jeff Goins dismantles the myth that being creative is a hindrance to success by revealing how an artistic temperament is a competitive advantage in the marketplace.? 

The myth of the starving artist has dominated our culture, seeping into the minds of creative people and stifling their pursuits. The truth is that the world's most successful artists did not starve. In fact, they capitalized on the power of their creative strength.

In Real Artists Don't Starve, bestselling author and creativity expert Jeff Goins debunks the myth of the starving artist by unveiling the ideas that created it and replacing them with 14 rules for artists to thrive, including:

  • Steal from your influences (don't wait for inspiration)
  • Collaborate with others (working alone is a surefire way to starve)
  • Take strategic risks (instead of reckless ones)
  • Make money in order to make more art (it's not selling out)
  • Apprentice under a master (a "lone genius" can never reach full potential)

From graphic designers and writers to artists and business professionals, creatives already know that no one is born an artist. Goins' revolutionary rules celebrate the process of becoming an artist, a person who utilizes the imagination in fundamental ways. He reminds creatives that business and art are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

Real Artists Don't Starve explores the tension every creative person and organization faces in an effort to blend the inspired life with a practical path to success. Being creative isn't a disadvantage for success, it is a powerful tool to be harnessed.

Jun 6, 2017

Also available as...


About the author

Jeff Goins is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and popular blogger with a reputation for challenging the status quo. In three years, Goins built a million-dollar business, published four books, and became an online marketing expert, using his skills in writing and business to help others succeed. He is the author of four books, including The Art of Work, which landed on the bestseller lists of USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and Washington Post. He lives with his family near Nashville, TN.

Related to Real Artists Don't Starve

Related Books

Related Articles

Book Preview

Real Artists Don't Starve - Jeff Goins

Part 1


WE FIRST APPROACH OUR ART NOT WITH OUR HANDS BUT WITH OUR minds. We all develop thought patterns and limiting beliefs that prohibit us from being where we want to be in life, and creative work is no exception. Here, we attack those obstacles head on, adopting new ways of thinking, so that we can stop starving and start creating. We must master our mind-set.

Chapter 1



I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.


ADRIAN CARDENAS GREW UP IN MIAMI, FLORIDA, AS THE SON OF Cuban immigrants. Fleeing the rule of Fidel Castro, the Cardenas family escaped to America, where their son took up the most American of sports: baseball. Soon, Adrian learned he was good at the game, and his talent grew into a dream, which became his ticket to a whole new life. It was an organic process, learning to play. There’s this call and response that goes on, he recalled. "The next step is to play in this league. Do people want you? Yes, sure, so then you’re playing in that league."

Following that call and response, Adrian advanced in the game, playing all the way through school. In 2006, he won the Baseball America High School Player of the Year award and was drafted out of high school by the Phillies. In 2012, he went to play for the Chicago Cubs, and that was the year that changed everything.

In the majors, Adrian was in the best shape of his life, making more money than he or his immigrant parents ever could have dreamed, building a career based on the rules we know all too well. Get a good job, do it well, and work hard until you retire. This was the path Adrian Cardenas was on, and he knew how to walk it. With a signing bonus of nearly $1 million, he was every bit the success story we imagine. It had taken Adrian years to get to this point, and now he was finally enjoying the fruits of his labor. He had everything he had ever wanted.

There was just one problem: he no longer wanted it.

During that first year at Wrigley Field, something felt off. It was a feeling that had been haunting the baseball player for some time. In the minors, players teased him for reading Tolstoy in the locker room. In the majors, he noticed how different his idea of a good time was from that of his teammates. He celebrated getting drafted by entertaining friends with Gershwin numbers on the piano. They celebrated by partying. The more of this life he lived, the more he felt like a misfit, and the more he realized that in following one dream, he’d abandoned another.

When Adrian was a child, his parents insisted on piano lessons in hopes that he might one day attend the Juilliard School in New York. He had long loved the craft of writing and was a devout reader. But those interests now seemed like the dreams of a distant past. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe he was supposed to do something with these urges and interests. As the pieces of a new story began to knit themselves together, Adrian realized he’d ended up somewhere he didn’t belong. Despite achieving everything he thought he wanted, it was time for a new dream. It wasn’t too late to quit, start over, and reimagine his life—was it?

In 2012, the same year he played his first game in the major leagues, Adrian Cardenas left baseball to tell stories. When things seemed stable and sure for the young athlete, he decided to reinvent himself altogether, which was the scariest but best thing he could have done.


Sometimes in life, the script we’re given no longer fits the story we want to live. We realize the rules we were following were assigned by someone who did not have our best interests in mind. And now, we must do something about it.

Whether we changed our minds or realized the path we were on wasn’t leading where we thought, we all have a choice about who we become. We can go in the direction of what is expected of us. Or, we can enter a world of possibility and reimagine our future.

Now, we come to the first rule of the New Renaissance. I call this the Rule of Re-creation, which says that you are not born an artist. You become one.

At any point in your story, you are free to reimagine the narrative you are living. You can become the person you want to be, even if that means adopting an entirely new identity—or a very old one. This is the moment of decision, when who you are and what you want meet. When we find ourselves here, we must be careful of what we do next, because it could send us down one of two very different paths. This was where Adrian Cardenas found himself when he came to terms with the fact that he had dedicated much of his life to a game he no longer wanted to play. To begin a new journey, he had to let go of what was expected of him.


As a Cuban American, Adrian was used to feeling caught between two worlds. He was never quite American enough for America and never quite Cuban enough for Cuba. Similarly, he long loved the game of baseball but also loved telling stories. And the more he played professional ball, the more irreconcilable these two worlds felt. Just as his parents had taken a risk in leaving Cuba to reboot their lives, he was caught in a similar tension. If he continued playing baseball, he knew he’d have to dedicate himself to the game, which he wasn’t sure he wanted to do. It had gotten to the point where he had to work so hard just to maintain the mechanics of his swing and fielding that it no longer felt meaningful to him.

It’s great to do those things and then be able to feel confident enough to play for forty-five thousand people, he said, but you ask yourself, ‘So what? Why does this matter?’

When he weighed the options, Adrian realized if he were to continue playing the game, he might never be able to tell the story of his parents’ immigration from Cuba. And that scared him more than the possibility of leaving the majors. It was a difficult choice, because he loved the game, but this was a moment of clarity when he knew there were costs on either side. And in the end, art beat baseball. As crazy as it sounds, it was easier for Adrian Cardenas to play Major League Baseball than it was for him to sit down and write a story.

There’s something very satisfying about wrestling with this thing that’s much more raw and visceral, he said. It’s equally as hard and challenging as baseball, but much more rewarding.

Shortly after leaving the game, Adrian joined his father on a trip to Cuba, where Juan Cardenas showed his son the locations of multiple escape attempts, as well as the route that finally helped him flee the island. In many ways, the two stories parallel each other. Both generations of men found themselves in seemingly inescapable situations. One was an oppressive regime, the other a golden handcuffs situation. For both, they were told by peers that they should comply. Juan was a poet whose poems had gotten him in trouble with the state, and Adrian was an artist whose musings had estranged him from fellow ballplayers. Both men had to do something daring, with everyone around them saying it couldn’t be done. But once they decided to follow a new set of rules, they were able to live and tell a whole new story with their lives.

After the trip, Adrian published a series of articles about the experience, sharing his father’s escape story. With bylines in the New Yorker and on CNN.com as well as a feature in the New York Times, the former baseball player is now realizing his dream of telling stories for a living. It took a daring effort to reinvent the person he was becoming, but in the end, it was worth it.


If we want to become artists, we are going to have to break some rules. We cannot do just what is expected of us. At some point, we must break away from the status quo and forge a new path. As it turns out, this is how creativity works best.

The famous psychologist Paul Torrance grew up on a farm in Georgia. One of his first jobs was working at a military academy where he saw how students with high energy and a lot of ideas were labeled as deviant. Something about that bothered him, so he began exploring the connection between misfit behavior and creative potential. Thus began a lifelong study that would help launch a brand-new field of psychology.

Torrance believed creativity could exist in all areas of life and that anyone could be creative. The more research he did, however, the more he discovered how difficult it was to be creative in certain settings, particularly schools. He also observed how creative individuals tended to struggle in systems that forced them to comply to rules they didn’t understand. The creative kids are the ones who rail against the rules the hardest, said Bonnie Cramond, a former student of Torrance, in summary of her teacher’s findings. Creative kids have no patience with ridiculous rules. They don’t see any purpose in it. Professor Torrance concluded that following the rules does not produce outstanding creative work. If you aren’t willing to be a little deviant, then it’s harder to be creative. Sometimes it pays to break the rules.

What, then, does this mean for us in our quest to share our art with the world? There is this idea that artists are born, not made. The Muse kisses you on your forehead at birth, and you spend the rest of your life creating magnificent work. But the reality is that creativity is work, not magic, and those who buck the status quo are far more likely to succeed.

The rules of the Starving Artist told us that if we weren’t born with a paintbrush in hand, then we weren’t one of the special ones. But these rules no longer serve us. We need something more than the well-intentioned good luck from our parents when sharing a dream of writing a novel, becoming an actor, or launching a start-up. We need to know our gifts are here for a reason and that whatever we did before now, we don’t have to stay stuck here.

When Adrian Cardenas left baseball, he was breaking a rule, the rule that says you have to do what you’ve always done, that you can’t change things midcareer and do something else. After all, when you have a good thing going, you can’t just walk away from it, right? But one year into a career where players make a minimum of half a million dollars a year, the young athlete quit baseball to become an artist, which illustrates an important lesson. Before you can create great art, you first have to create yourself.

Re-creating yourself means letting go of who you were before and accepting a new identity. It means walking away from what people said you should be in exchange for something better. Inevitably, this means we have to break some rules. Maybe they are even the rules of our parents or of society. Maybe they are the rules we gave ourselves. Wherever they may come from, these rules tend to say the same things: "You could never do that and Who are you to think such things?" We assume where we are in life is where we must remain, but the creative life is a process of possibility, of reimagining what could be. And so we find ourselves on the cusp of transformation. The question to ask ourselves is, are we willing to become our true selves?


All his life, Michelangelo was told he had been born into a noble family. This belief guided his understanding of himself, fueling his ambition to become a successful artist. Wherever he went, he was the disenfranchised aristocrat eager to restore his family name to honor. He knew that if he were going to make it as an artist, he was going to have to make a living; and if he were going to do that, then people were going to need to take him seriously.


Given that an artist was considered to be a lowly profession at the time, Michelangelo’s choice in vocation was a source of conflict between him and his father. Ultimately, it was a decision that made him very successful, but for many years, it was a hard fight. With the odds against him, what guided the young artist? What made him thrive when so many before him had starved? It was the story he told himself.

If you grow up believing you’re connected to one of the most important families in Europe, and everyone around you believes that, that informs your entire persona and that’s how people treat you, said Michelangelo scholar William Wallace. The artist went through life believing he was related to one of the most influential families in Europe, a conviction that, in the words of Wallace, was profoundly believed by him and all his contemporaries. It was fundamental to the way he looked at life and his art.

This belief in his own nobility guided Michelangelo, shaping his life and paving the route to his success. But here’s the interesting part: it wasn’t true. He was not actually from noble lineage, a fact that historians discovered years later. What made him succeed was not a genetic predisposition or some cosmic giftedness. It was how he thought of himself.

What we believe about ourselves has a way of coming true— the good and the bad. I have had personal experience with this. At twelve years old, I had long hair and was more than a little chubby, wearing baggy jeans and loose shirts to conceal the fact. Puberty was still a few years away, so any masculine features, including facial hair, were practically nonexistent. At a time when peer feedback is at its most brutal point, I was occasionally mistaken for a girl.

That year, I got my first job, delivering newspapers to houses in my neighborhood. After a month on the job, I went door to door collecting dues and met one of my clients, an older gentleman who was retired. As he paid me for a month’s worth of work, plus a generous tip, he remarked, Well, aren’t you an enterprising young lady! I have no doubt you’re going to be a very successful entrepreneur one day. As I stood there, staring at him blankly, he placed several crisp dollar bills in my hand, smiled, and closed the

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1


What people think about Real Artists Don't Starve

13 ratings / 4 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    I loved this book. Jeff Goins turned the image of the starving artist on its ear and made it possible to imagine a world in which writers and artists don't have to wonder where their next meal is coming from. It helps creatives to find ways to collaborate with others. Not only do real artists not starve, they don't exist in a vacuum either.

    I read it fast the first time. I'll read it much more slowly and with pen and paper (or the computer) to take notes the next time. I'm pretty sure that next time will be soon.
  • (5/5)
    Fantastic! Highly inspirational and full of great insights! Recommend it for any aspiring artist and for any artist who wants to turn his/her currently life around.
  • (4/5)
    Goins abolishes the myth of the starving artist with strategies for creative to thrive. He also shows how great artists and creatives have thrived over centuries.
  • (5/5)
    Thanks to the power of the myth that real artists starve for art, live in poverty, are recognized and valued after their death, many of us have a distorted view of artistry. Aspiring artists take the safe route in life and don't dare to stand out. Enter myth buster Jeff Goins who in Real Artists Don't Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age replaces this paradigm by that of a thriving artist. The goal of this book is to help you build a life that makes creating your best work not only possible but inevitable. Examples like Michelangelo, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, J.R.R. Tolkien, the Brontë sisters, but also contemporary ones such as moonwalker-became-painter Alan Bean, Gordon Mackenzie (Hallmark), Sam Phillips and Elvis, Steve Jobs (Apple, Pixar), Dr. Dre (DEP, Beats), Michael Jackson, and Beyoncé serve to illustrate the real genius, the real artist.Goins identified twelve principles for his Thriving Artist paradigm. You're not born an artist but become one. Better than striving to be original it's better to steal from others and build upon their work. Collaborate, but apprentice first under a master. Cultivate patrons, practice in public, and don't work for free. Own your work, make money to make art, and master many crafts. We are used to seeing artists struggle and suffer for their art. Throughout history, there have always been daring individuals who were unwilling to accept that false depiction of an artist. Goins showcases them and hopes you're inspired to use your creativity to harness success. A convincing book!