Book Review

by Joel Smith & r & & r & The Starving Artist's Survival Guide by Marianne Taylor and Laurie Lindop & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & arianne Taylor and Laurie Lindop begin their survival guide's third chapter ("Day Jobs") with a quotation from George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman: "The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art." But, they add prudently, "Sometimes an artist's elderly mother is not as industrious as the artist might hope, and thus he or she is unable to pay the rent."

It's this kind of deadpan and thoroughly jaded writing that fills The Starving Artist's Survival Guide, a self-help book for anyone who's ever striven for an artistic life and been knocked down by the cold realities of the creativity industry. Penned by two women who have "racked up hundreds of rejections and feigned delight at the success of [their] brethren," it's bitter and acerbic and occasionally even genuinely helpful.

In that "Day Jobs" chapter, for instance, they wisely advise those artists who stoop to jobs as costumed mascots to be sure their fuzzy bear costume comes with a battery-operated fan and a professional cold vest. In a sidebar on the history of artist colonies, they offer five tips for passing as a Canadian. (Order Kokanee at a bar and "act surprised that the pub master doesn't carry Canadian microbrews.")

The rest of the book, though, is sheer commiseration for the legions of failed, underappreciated artists -- filled with lists, tables, artistic trivia (a brief history of the beret, the 10 most depressing or romantic artistic dwellings), and abundant profiles of the major archetypes in the art world. In a pitch-black final chapter called "Ending It All," they list several embarrassing celebrity deaths (Elvis, Mama Cass, etc.), then profile a handful of famous artistic suicides (Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Eliott Smith), appending each of them with practical "in case you're inspired" tips. ("When you hang yourself, your bowels tend to release.")

Broken up into countless bite-size chunks and illustrated with simple pen-and-ink drawings -- a la the popular Worst-Case Scenario series -- it's clear that the book was written with an audience of distracted, distraught, depressed artists in mind. It's also clear that Taylor and Lindop had a hell of a good time writing it. Chapter One provides a good taste of their catharsis: That's where they teach you how to create a burning effigy of the agent who rejected your manuscript -- using the agent's rejection letter!