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Starving Artist Interview #3: Sandra Newman
January 4, 2010, 2:42 am
Filed under: art, interview | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sandra Newman is the author of the novels Cake and The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done; as well as the book How Not to Write a Novel (co-written with Howard Mittelmark); and has published short fictions in numerous venues, notably in Conjunctions (<–read “The Potato Messiah”). She was interviewed in MP#3 about Cake, bank robbery, and gender and experimental writing.

Here’s what she had to say about the writing life and $$ woes. (Interview conducted by Leeyanne Moore.)

illustration by john bylander

When you use the term “starving artist” in relation to yourself, how literal are we talking in terms of actual starving? What would you count as part of the territory that comes with being a “starving artist” and what would you disallow?

I haven’t ever been starving in the food sense; in my experience, in the Western world, the only way one could arrive at “starving” would be via ”utterly friendless.” And while my adventures in nearly starving have put a strain on my relationships sometimes (I don’t often borrow money, but I do stay on people’s couches for prolonged periods of time in my recurring dry spells), this has never gone into friendless territory. People with non-art jobs have all the food in the world, in my experience. In fact, you can pretty much make a three-course meal in the kitchen of a gainfully employed person without them ever knowing that the food is gone.

For me, most of being a starving artist in America is about taking risks that other people aren’t willing to take, sacrificing status, and often — the part no one ever talks about — making selfish decisions about other people’s welfare. Any starving artist with parents is at the very least making those parents miserable. In the vast majority of cases, s/he is also spending those parents’ money, which the parents perhaps had plans for and wished to spend themselves. Finally, any starving artist with children is going to feel like a criminal at certain points. There is no point pretending that the children would not have a better prospect in life if you worked for a reinsurance company and could afford to send them to private school. The children will be paying for your art career for the rest of their lives, in many cases. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you would have been a great success in your other, purely imaginary, business — no doubt you would just have become a starving, untalented claims adjuster. This point, however, tends not to impress anyone — people will generally relate to the artist as if she could have become a millionaire in any other field at all, at will.

Sandra's second novel

What’s been your most profound moment as a starving artist in terms of suffering? Has this shaped how you view your art or how you view the world & humanity?

For me, the worst part of being a starving artist is (as alluded to above) that one cannot afford to be ethical. This is a common feature of any poverty: Brecht writes a lot about this. In the modern world, this is usually a fairly harmless thing, amounting to a sin of omission generally. You can go a long time without confronting this, but eventually there will come a time when the choice is between doing the right thing and, for instance, getting your book finished. So you end up finishing the book, even though it means living off your partner for a few months, for instance, and you know the partner has no belief that your book will sell, and in fact, your partner thinks you should get a job in insurance, because this artist crap is going nowhere. Soon the partner is gone, sans a fair chunk of money, and the book is left behind as a monument to your warped priorities.

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Starving Artist Interview #2: Sommer Browning
December 22, 2009, 12:42 am
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Sommer Browning writes comix and draws poems in Brooklyn. She works in a fort, co-founded Flying Guillotine Press and just downloaded Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny. MP contributor Leeyanne Moore asked Sommer a number of questions about what the term ’starving artist’ means to her as an artist and poet living in a city that’s as huge on money as it is on art.

Originally published on our MySpace page, this is the second in an ongoing series of Starving Artist Interviews.

1) When you use the term “starving artist” in relation to yourself, how literal are we talking in terms of actual starving?

Sommer Browning, & pelvis

If I was to call myself a “starving artist,” I would feel very uncomfortable. I never have been cool with the word “artist,” it gives me the fantods. And I have never starved or even come close to it. I don’t know how poor you need to be to be an artist. I think I know some rich artists. I want to live in a motel one day.

2) What would you say is your general level of starving as a starving artist? By that, I mean, when you look around you, or think about starving artists in history, how would you place yourself in a kind of spectrum?

I am so privileged it would be ridiculous if it weren’t so true. Sometimes I feel like the pate goose right before it’s slaughtered. I have a funnel attached to a pneumatic pump shoved down my esophagus and it’s feeding me heavy starches and poly-saturated vanity and flimsy images of human Being. So maybe I am an Overstuffed Artist, a great big gluttonous artist sack, about to burst open and spew Everybody Loves Raymond all over the place.

3) What’s been your most profound moment as a starving artist in terms of suffering? Has this shaped how you view your art or how you view the world & humanity?

I am due for another profound moment on Thursday, I have to schedule them in now that I live in New York. I used to have them quite often when I took a lot of LSD. They were great. Anyhow, my new thing is discipline. I’m going to explore it. I’ve fought against it my whole life, it just didn’t fit into my hedonism. But I think I was wrong about hedonism. Wrong about how I defined it. And I don’t think I like hedonism anyway, so eff it. I’ve been thinking about discipline and patience these days. Through control I might find happiness. That would be nice.

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Starving Artist Interview #1: Sean Samoheyl
November 17, 2009, 1:37 am
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Sean Samoheyl is an AWESOME puppeteer and multimedia artist who lives and works in Twin Oaks, a worker-owned farm community in Louisa County, Virginia. Our friend Leeyanne Moore asked him a number of questions about what the term ‘starving artist’ means to him, as a below-poverty-level (and somewhat outsider) artist. This is the first in a series of Starving Artists Interviews to be posted in the coming weeks.

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Sean Samoheyl, makin' art

1) When you use the term “starving artist” in relation to yourself, how literal are we talking in terms of actual starving? What would you count as part of the territory that comes with being a “starving artist” and what would you disallow?

I’ve gone hungry for art although usually forgetting to eat out of stress or whatever. But I’ve opted for sure for some crap burrito with nothing on it to save or just getting, say, soup and then bringing my own bread. Recently for a long train ride to an opening in Cleveland, I brought 4 sandwiches and homemade granola and 3 apples. The sandwiches got sort of old and were cheese and pb n j. All homemade bread and jam with our own fruit. But I was determined not to spend any money when I know it’s a gouge.

I can be frugal but then have very little sense when it comes to things like antiques and junk I don’t need. I’ve been poorer when I wasn’t making any art at all, I was just broke. I do try to disallow too many sweets. In Europe I tried to get by on sweets and once in Chicago, I tried to live on sugary cereal for like a week, and I would get sick every time. So it’s better to just fast and drink water, I think, than to try to eat sugar or a ton of cheese curls or, worse, trail mix or clif bars.

2) What would you say is your general level of starving as a starving artist? By that, I mean, when you look around you, or think about starving artists in history, how would you place yourself in a kind of spectrum?

I would call myself frugal or living voluntarily below the poverty line. And trying desperately to hide it. I hate how some hippies wear their poorness like a badge and just wear some outfit that looks so soiled a horse would avoid it and insist on going barefoot for some reason. But yeah, I’ve made items that a boutique might sell for $$ so I could have that “cool” edge “look” and just mend my own dang jeans and slap a cashmere sweater on top (donation) and eat at home before the opening to cover my embarrassing lumberjack appetite.

I’m way self conscious about being perceived as really poor which sort of comes from my upbringing which in some ways might have meant we were really poor which is funny. We never had ripped clothes. Which is funny to see rich people wearing dirty Diesel brand jeans.

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