Book Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve

“If you’re waiting for your moment, don’t. Start now. If you’re wondering if you had to be born to paint or sing or dance, you don’t. You just have to choose to become someone else, if the role you’re playing isn’t the one you wanted. You don’t become an artist by moving to New York City without a penny to your name. You become an artist because you decide that’s what you’re going to be, and then you do the work.”

So says Jeff Goins in his wonderful book, Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age. Goins insists no one has to choose between a creative life and making a living. Drawing lessons from creatives like Jim Henson and C.S. Lewis, Goins reveals an empowering truth; real artists don’t starve, they thrive. Most notably, he reveals some truths about artists like Michelangelo and Shakespeare. Did you know Michelangelo was actually wealthy? I didn’t, having always imagined he was, yes, a starving artist of his day.

real artists

As I am studying the subject of creativity for my own book, I was particularly interested in his mention of the research done by famous psychologist Paul Torrance. When working at a military academy he noted that the students with high energy and a lot of ideas were being labeled as deviant. That bothered him so much, he began what became a lifelong study, exploring the connection between misfit behavior and creative potential. Torrance believed that creativity could exist in all areas of life, and that anyone could be creative. He observed how creative individuals tended to struggle in systems that force them to comply to rules they didn’t understand.

“The creative kids are the ones who rail against the rules the hardest,” Bonnie Cramond, a former student of Torrance, said in summarizing her teacher’s findings. “Creative kids have no patience with ridiculous rules. They don’t see any purpose in it.”

Professor Torrance concluded that it was very difficult to be creative in certain settings, particularly schools.

This conclusion supports other research I have unearthed as I’ve studied the concept of creativity.

Learn more about Jeff Goins at, and sign up for his weekly updates on creativity and writing.