Inspiration for the struggling artist
May 29, 2015 6:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in reading inspiring stories/biographies about struggling artists who overcome obstacles to create their art. What do you recommend?

I'm currently doubting myself of my artistic abilities and career/life choice to become an artist. Meandering through dead-end jobs to support myself so I can express myself creatively. I think I need to remind myself that there are people out there in similar situations, and who have struggled through years of challenges to get to where they are. I'm in the middle of developing my craft and style and it's been hard. I'd just like to read something inspiring that'll give me the confidence to continue my work. To feel like art is worth struggling for. I'd love to read articles/books about such artists. Past or present. Especially artists/musicians who have unconventional taste. I enjoy a lot of surreal art and music.

Any recommendations would be highly appreciated.

Thank you.
posted by MeaninglessMisfortune to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Read Hunter S. Thompson's The Proud Highway. The artform in question is literature/journalism, rather than visual arts or music, but the principals are the same.

The book is a collection of Thompson's letters from his youth and the early stages of his career. And as you read through it, you basically see him will himself to greatness through an endless series of setbacks. It's pretty amazing.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:14 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

"The Agony and the Ecstasy" is about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:15 AM on May 29, 2015

Daniel Boorstin's "The Creators" is CHOCKED full of these stories. Over 800 pages of artistic achievement and struggle. He's a great storyteller as well as a great historian.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 7:27 AM on May 29, 2015

Jay Leno supported himself for a long time as a mechanic while trying to break into comedy. At one point, he was told that he should get his chin broken and made smaller surgically, that he didn't have the right look and would never amount to anything if he didn't address that. He later was very successful, including hosting The Tonight Show.

Barbara Streisand was similarly told she should have her nose fixed. Doing so would have ruined her unique voice quality that eventually made her a star. In her early films, she was fairly awkward looking. It took her a long time to find a way to be attractive with her unconventional looks. Given that she is an actress and Hollywood is very big on looks, this was a very big deal. Her movie "The mirror has two faces" seems to encapsulate her personal experience in that regard.

Anjelica Huston similarly struggled to make her peace with her looks. You might know her best as Morticia Addams from the Addams family movies.

Harrison Ford supported himself as a carpenter for a lot of years before his big break in Star Wars as Han Solo. A few of his movies show him doing carpentry work, because he really can do carpentry. He was in his 30's when he finally got the break he was looking for.

Morgan Freeman began acting at age 9. I believe his big break was around age 50, though I am not readily finding that information at the moment.

The movie "What's love got to do with it?" is the biography of Tina Turner, who walked away from her abusive marriage to Ike Turner and started her career over. I knew her in my youth as a rock star. I was shocked to learn she had prior success many years earlier doing a completely different kind of music.

Gauguin's story is also something pretty dramatic. IIRC, he quit working as a stockbroker due to a stock crash and went to Tahiti to pursue his art full time.
posted by Michele in California at 10:55 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow, I just finished reviewing Irving Stone's (same author as The Agony and the Ecstasy above) Lust for Life about Vincent Van Gogh. Now there's an artist who went through some struggles! And he sacrificed almost everything for his art.

I don't know if I'd call it "inspiring," considering he didn't gain any recognition in his lifetime, but it did give me valuable perspective about how work that is ridiculed at one point can be exalted later. I also found it comforting that Van Gogh started relatively "late" as an artist -- almost 30 before he ever picked up a brush. He definitely went through many periods of self-doubt.
posted by Alexandra Michelle at 11:53 AM on May 29, 2015

In "Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas," there is a stretch in which Lucas is struggling to come up with the concept for "Star Wars," but is convinced that he can't do what everyone around him can do, which is to invent story ideas. I found it pretty awesome.
posted by johngoren at 3:56 PM on May 29, 2015

You might be interested in Daily Rituals: How Artist Work. Has short vignettes of 161 famous artists, writers, etc., describing the circumstances of their creative process, sometimes including their financial struggles.
posted by Bron at 12:37 PM on May 30, 2015

Anything about Frida Kahlo, and there is plenty.

If you like surrealism, read about Leonora Carrington and how she escaped from an institution, arriving in Mexico to make her beautiful, detailed, surreal paintings. And also was said to do things like serve her houseguests omelettes that contained their own hair.
posted by mermaidcafe at 9:13 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Macroeconomics book recommendation   |   How to find out a business's Insurance Carrier -... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.