The back cover of Taylor and Lindop’s The Starving Artists Survival Guide proclaims it “A Blackened Chicken Soup for the Artistic Soul,” and from looking at the table of contents you’d think it was true. With a first chapter simply titled “Rejection,” and subsequent ones on the hazards of group critiques, day jobs, and that classic enhancer of notoriety, death, this book appears to offer the black humor, not to mention affirmation of genius the thwarted artist suspects his suffering is indicative of, you can’t find in the pages of your typical new age self-help fare.
Unfortunately, this book doesn’t deliver the goods. It’s big down fall is simply that it isn’t funny. Taylor and Lindop try so hard to get laughs they end up writing quips that are too heavy handed and over the top to be amusing. Most of their comedic ideas have potential, take for instance the form responses to form rejection letters laid out in chapter one. The idea is great. I don’t know a single person who has received a rejection letter and hasn’t wanted to immediately shoot off a biting response so ingenious the Editor/Curator/Grand Poobah would reconsider the initial rejection just long enough for them to reject any secondary offer. But Taylor and Lindop’s form letters just aren’t amusing. One goes on a snoozer of a rant about the writer’s dead dog that, rather than coming across as biting, sounds whiney. The last thing a rejected artist wants to consider is that they are whiney in all their pain. And it’s not as though the humor is tongue in cheek. They WANT the rants to come off as empowering and clever. So, the fact that they sound contrived simply adds insult to injury.
The text is only actually funny when the authors are relating stories about real artists who were snubbed during their lifetimes. In the aforementioned chapter on “Rejection,” (Forgive me for harping on it. I found it to be the least stomach-able of all the chapters, hence it rests on the low end of my heinousness meter.) features a section called the Humiliation Hall of Fame, in which we learn that “Edgar Allan Poe once filed for bankruptcy but was refused because he couldn’t pay the fee.” Now if that doesn’t make you feel better about the fact that you’re ten years out of college and still surviving on ramen, I don’t know what will.
Yes, the irony of me, a starving artist with no connections or published writing to my credit, writing a crappy review of a book written by two women far more accomplished then I with the purpose of helping individuals like myself isn’t lost on me. Though, given the fact that they have a book deal and I’m blogging, perhaps they won’t feel the need to send me anonymous packages of little porcelain animals in an attempt to drive me cuckoo (p. 42) or print out this review and use it to creat an Angel of Despair (p.8.)
For truly funny insights and helpful suggestions on how to survive as a starving artist check out The Lost Soul Companion and The Not-So Lost Soul Companion by Susan M. Brackney.