If you have an artist in your life, you may worry that all artists are starving artists. This isn’t necessarily the case, but the support the fledgling artist receives early on can make all the difference.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2014, there were around 50,300 craft and fine artists working in the United States. Out of those, about half were self-employed and the median income was $45,080 per year.

However, understand that 45k was a median income. There were artists on the higher end of the scale and many on the lower end who earned far less than a middle-of-the-road income. About 10% of fine artists earned only $9.20 an hour, while another 10% earned as much as $47.66 an hour.

That doesn’t sound bad, but it doesn’t take into account the many hours of blood, sweat and tears as the artist builds his client base or worries about making rent when a payment from one of those clients is past due. Being a starving artist is stressful, but if you love one, here are some things you can do to offer support and encouragement.

1. Give Honest Feedback

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When just getting started in any art, whether it’s design work, writing or painting, the artist typically struggles to find his or her personal style and voice. Getting honest feedback isn’t always easy. Family and friends will tell the starving artist anything he or she produces is amazing, but that isn’t always the case.

If your artist asks for feedback on their work, tell them two things you like and one thing you think they could improve. By pointing out the positive and then telling the artist how to improve, you will build them up while also helping them get better at their craft.

2. Suggest New Mediums That Pay More

If the artist in your life is struggling to make ends meet, suggest that he or she break out and try some new mediums. For example, if your artist is a painter and having trouble commissioning paintings, suggest that they try doing murals for homes in order to make ends meet while still working on paintings in their spare time.

3. Point Out the Positive

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Artists often work long hours alone without a lot of immediate reward. It’s important to point out the positives to keep up the artist’s spirits. You can remind them that they don’t have to commute to work, that they’re doing something they truly love and that their talent is certain to be noticed soon.

4. Be a Shoulder to Cry On

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As many as 79% of those who are self-employed cite cash flow as a problem. It’s normal for artists to feel down in the dumps when they’re working nonstop and not moving forward financially. Be there for your artist friend. Lend a shoulder to cry on when they lose out on that sale of a piece they thought was already sold.

If the artist gets a bad review, be there to commiserate, take them out for a drink or spend some time with them going over the reasons they love being an artist.

5. Pass on Opportunities You See

If you see an opportunity that might align with what your artist is trying to accomplish, let them know. Is a local art gallery looking for sculptors to include in an upcoming show? And did your artist just finished an amazing piece? Let your artist friend know so that they can decide if they want to float their name for consideration.

Let your starving artist know about any featured artist programs you come across. These programs are beneficial because they bring the artist’s work to a local community. Those who discover an artist through such a program will often become loyal followers of the artist’s work.

6. Tell Others About the Artist’s Work

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Be your artist’s biggest cheerleader. Tell other friends how amazing the artist’s work is. If you’re at a restaurant and there are paintings on the wall, take the time to tell the manager about your artist friend and inquire as to whether they’d be open to hanging their work on the walls.

Carry business cards around so you can share them with those you promote your artist friend to. Tell everyone you meet. You never know when someone might be looking to commission a family portrait, artwork for a business waiting room or a mural for their home.

7. Be Their Best Customer

Love your artist’s work? Be their first and best customer. Go ahead and spend your money on something lasting. Let your artist friend or family member know you believe in them enough to put your money where your mouth is.

Once you’ve purchased one or more pieces, display them proudly in your home or office. Tell everyone that you personally know the artist (see #6 above).

8. Believe in Them When No One Else Does

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Artists often face rejection in a variety of forms. A bad review, a gallery that refuses to display the artist’s work or even pieces that simply don’t sell can all add up to a discouraged artist. A Yale study found that creatives are actually more prone to a major depression because of the depth of their thoughts and self-reflection.

It’s easy for family and friends to express reservations as they see their artist struggle to make ends meet or gain recognition for all their hard work. However, it’s important that you keep these reservations to yourself. The artist already has enough of their own.


Imagine living in a world where no one likes your work or seems to recognize your efforts. Now, add to this the fact that most artists pour their heart and soul into their work and you can see how easy it would be to get discouraged at a lack of recognition. Be that person in the starving artist’s life who sees the potential and offers words of encouragement.

About the author

Lexie Lu

Hello! My name is Lexie and I have a fervor for design, writing, and coffee. I graduated with a dual major in Creative Writing and Commercial Design, and through those grueling study hours (facilitated by coffee, of course) I always found time to write for myself.

My posts feature design trends throughout all industries and show how the field is always changing. There’s never a dull moment in the design world!

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