Starving Artist: A Podcast That Gets Real About Money, Creativity, and Privilege

It's hard to make a living as an artist, but Honor Eastly's new interview series offers frank and helpful advice.

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04 April 2017, 4:33am

Artists don't like to talk about money. Perhaps because they don't always make very much of it—or because they risk being dismissed as sellouts if they do. For these reasons, the existence of Honor Eastly's new podcast Starving Artist feels both risky and necessary. It's an artist interview series that discusses the ins and outs of making a living through creative pursuits that's intended to be as uncomfortable as it is informative.

"I'm interested in authentic, vulnerable conversations," Eastly tells Creators. "Most of the time artists get interviewed about their work. In these interviews I was like, 'No, tell me about the hustle! Tell me about the bit that no one hears about.'"

It's generally considered that an artist who has "made it" is able to financially profit from their craft. But the debate over what constitutes a "real artist" is fraught, and Eastly—herself an art school graduate, writer, performer, and mental health advocate from Melbourne, Australia—uses her podcast as an opportunity to have "a really frank and interesting discussion, to find out how we can be more honest about these things". The answers that emerge are enlightening and perhaps heartening to those who are struggling to carve out a viable career in the arts.

Starving Artist's twelve interview subjects come from varying creative fields—names include poet Steve Roggenbuck, magazine editor Wendy Syfret, musician Becky Sui Zhen, ethical clothing designer Abbey Rich, author Bri Lee, and the contemporary artists Steaphan Paton and Frances Cannon. Eastly goes deep, taking each episode as an opportunity to mine her subject for useful information about staying afloat in Australia's underfunded arts landscape.

"One thing I've been aware of is that I don't want to be a pyramid scheme," she says. "I'm not telling people how to make money—it's more me finding out how different people do it. It's me following my curiosity."

A panel discussion at the podcast launch last week. Photography by Naomi Lee Beveridge

While some episodes offer pragmatic advice—how to do your taxes, how to ask for a raise—others are more philosophical. "What I find interesting about these conversations is that they very, very quickly stop being about money and start being about ethics, values, and priorities. How you live a good life and create art at the same time," Eastly explains.

Talking to Steaphan Paton, a galleried artist who by many definitions has hit objective career success, revealed that he didn't see money as an end goal at all. "He's got a very particular approach in that money is totally not a priority to him. He's not loaded, although people have this idea that he might be. For him, money is peripheral to the integrity of his work, which I think is a really particular approach."

This was the interview that Eastly found most confronting. She openly admits to being terrified of financial failure, and often considers pursuing a "safe" career like medicine as an alternative to trying to pay rent as a writer and performer.

"Part of the reason I started the podcast is that the question of art and money is one of my most potent fears," she explains. "I'm known online for talking a lot about mental health stuff, but people don't really know what the colour of my crisis looks like. It's this stuff—whenever I've gone through a really big moment of crisis, it's always been the same moment where I've seriously considered going to go study medicine. Being suicidal, going and studying medicine, they're the same for me. And I don't like that, but it is what it is."

The relationship between money and social media was another frequent discussion point. Much of Eastly's personal success has come from Instagram, and she's fascinated by the potential and limits of the medium. "I talked to Frances Cannon about making a living through Instagram because I see a lot of people with huge online followings—she's at 95, 000 followers—and I'm like, what does your life look like? Does that actually translate to money? She's only just finished Honours at art school, and Instagram is her job now."

For many creative people, it's anxiety-inducing to even think about money. But for many of us, there's no choice—knowing where that next paycheck will come from is a necessity. "Any conversation about art and money is also about class and privilege," Eastly says. "And that is a scary conversation to hold as someone who does have significant privilege, but it's a crucial one."

The first two episodes of Starving Artist are out now on iTunes. Find out more about the podcast here.

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