Do you need to starve to be an artist?

A week ago, I posted about Oscar Wilde’s essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism, and the vision proposed therein of a society in which people were freed from poverty (and property) to express themselves to the best of their artistic and intellectual potential.

While I do not see how abolishing private property would help matters even slightly, I think that Wilde’s overall goal here was laudable. It is for these same reasons that I support government poverty-relief efforts, which I think nowadays qualifies me as a socialist, at least in the minds of some.

However, there is an alternative viewpoint–the idea that facing challenges and hardship is what inspires people to excellence. As Scott Adams wrote in a post I’ve linked to before:

“I’ve noticed that creativity so often springs from hardship or pain that I wonder if it’s a precondition. That would make sense from an evolution perspective. Humans don’t need to come up with new ideas when everything is running smoothly.”

Thus, attempts to stimulate the creative people by providing them with support will backfire, leading to mental as well as physical laziness. (Similar ideas are considered in the famous Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World.)

It’s quite possible, but I do not believe this is really how the artistically or intellectually-inclined mind works. (Kindly suspend disbelief long enough to suppose that I have some inkling what such minds are like.) It is true that hardship can have a stimulative effect, but I think that, when all immediate material needs are met, people automatically start concerning themselves with more abstract problems.


  1. Not everyone is artist. Half the population is guardian, unfortunately the guardians always seem to have the power (they seek it) and the artists are forced to deprive their spirit to work for a living or starve until their work is recognized and they can make a living at it.Look at James Clavel's, Stephen King's, Tom Clancy's first novels. Barely 200 pages. What did they turn out when they had the luxury of doing nothing but writing. Every novel doubles or triples in size.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?