Overcoming the Starving Artist Mindset

by Anamarie Diaz, The Financial Flutist

The starving artist mindset holds a lot of weight in our society. This ideal is known by artists and non-artists, but we aren’t born believing that artists struggle financially. This concept is learned and internalized by the way artists are portrayed in media and from comments that are said to us by individuals throughout our life. The starving artist mentality can look a few different ways, but for the sake of this article I am talking about the idea that artists struggle to make a living because there is no money in art. 

Even with this mentality being so ingrained in our society, there are millions of people who are not discouraged from this idea and choose to do art for a living. When I was deciding what to pursue as a career I knew I wanted to be a professional flutist. I also knew that this was a difficult career path but that notion didn’t seem to scare me, yet. It wasn’t until I was in the throws of my music education that I really started to understand how ingrained this mentality is in the classical music world. Understanding where this mentality gets ingrained and where it is perpetuated is the first step in rejecting it. 

Identifying Where the Cycle Starts

Mentorship in classical music is not uncommon and certainly not uncommon throughout music school. In fact, young musicians work very closely with their primary instrument teachers to help them not only become proficient on their instrument, but hopefully navigate their own career. It is during these times when professors may discuss the realities of a classical music career citing the difficulties of the job market and the uncertainty of financial stability. Throughout this relationship professors may encourage their students to make certain investments that could further their career, however often these investments are quite costly. 

The mentorship that professors and teachers provide young musicians can be incredibly beneficial and necessary for a successful career in classical music. However, it is important that those of us who have the privilege of providing that mentorship understand the responsibility of that role, and how our words can be interpreted. Discussing the realities of this industry with students is incredibly important. Students should know that a career in classical music is not a walk in the park. But, warning them of the financial instability without providing further financial guidance is one of the first places that the starving artist mindset gets its hold. The second place is when professors and teachers encourage students to make high financial investments without any further financial guidance. While this might seem like the best choice for a young musician’s career, it may not be the best choice for their financial wellbeing. 

The Starving Artist Mindset Holds You Back Financially

The financial impact of believing in this mindset can be high. It can warp the way you view this career field and drive you to take certain actions. If a musician thinks they are never going to make any money in this career field, they may start overbooking their schedule, which can lead to burnout. Burnout isn’t a new concept in this field especially since hustle culture is extremely prevalent throughout the industry. But even for musicians who are able to fully manage a hectic calendar, they may feel as though they are not making any financial progress. Or even worse, they end up working really hard and still end up living paycheck to paycheck. 

On the other hand, this starving artist belief can lead musicians to make poor financial decisions. Musicians may fear that if they don’t make certain investments then their career won’t pan out. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of young musicians’ making thousand dollar investments into their career, but that investment ended up causing them financial harm in the future. That’s not to say that these investments are not worth it or necessary, but making any investment out of fear is the wrong reason to make an investment. Making a poor investment, once again, only reinforces the starving artist mentality.

Overcoming the Starving Artist Mindset

The starving artist mentality is something that is deeply ingrained in our society as well as the classical music career field. Many of the individuals that I work with cite fears of never being able get out of debt, buy a house, or retire. There certainly isn’t a magic wand we can wave to dismantle this ideal, but there are actions we can take to start overcoming and rejecting it.

  First, it’s important that we start recognizing how the classical music industry has changed and what a classical musician is. It is not as straightforward to win an orchestra job or become a college professor as it used to be. So in an effort to make classical music your career, classical musicians are redefining what is possible in this industry. It’s important for young musicians to be exposed to all the opportunities that lie ahead of them and the potential for them to become not only successful, but financially stable and flexible. 

Second, it is crucial that financial education and guidance is provided to young musicians. Sending young musicians out into a career field that can be financially difficult to navigate is setting our entire industry up for failure. If we want to start dismantling the starving artist mentality from a major source that perpetuates this ideal then financial guidance is a must for young musicians going through music school.

And finally, on an individual level, it’s important for classical musicians of all ages to reflect and understand where their beliefs lie in regards to the starving artist mindset. It’s one thing to create systems in our industry to help overcome this mentality, but it’s our responsibility on an individual level to do this work as well. If classical musicians start rejecting the idea of a starving artist, how society views the arts will have no choice but to change.

Anamarie Diaz

Website | Instagram | financialflutist@gmail.com

Anamarie Diaz is a flutist, educator, performer, entrepreneur, and arts administrator in Richmond, VA. She currently teaches privately at her home studio, DiazFlute Studio, where she strives to push and encourage personal growth through music lessons. Anamarie is a strong advocate for music education access for all students regardless of socioeconomic standing. As an active performer, Anamarie regularly performs with Classical Revolution RVA and gigs throughout the greater Richmond area. Her most recent performance, Current Times, include performances of solo flute works by underrepresented BIPOC composers and interviews with each composer. 

Anamarie is the Artistic Director of Classical Revolution RVA, a non-profit organization aimed at integrating classical music into the vibrant art scene of Richmond, Virginia. She joined Classical Revolution as their Artistic Director in 2021 and she hopes to continue to explore ways to bring classical music to new audiences. Under her direction the organization has hosted various events from a chamber music brewery tour, HopScotts, to performing movements from major orchestral works. 

Anamarie received a Bachelors of Arts in Music from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015, and a Master of Music in Performance and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Musicology from the University of North Carolina Greensboro in 2019. Her primary teachers include Tabatha Easley, Erika Boysen, and Diana Morgan. Anamarie is currently studying to become a Certified Personal Financial Counselor.