Arts & Culture Features

Whither the Bohemians?

Halifax’s so-called ‘starving artists’ find their home in the North End.

The starving artist is the ultimate expression of someone who is willing to live for their work, create art for art’s sake, and sacrifice their well-being for their craft.
Immediately, images of 18th and 19th century philosopher-artists practicing in the streets of Paris come to mind. They are bohemian masters of life, love, and truth: a glorified image of passion and humanity.
But where are these so-called ‘starving artists’ now?
Halifax’s North End, actually.
In a small flat on North Street, three recently-graduated artists are looking for work. There are five heat lamps in their home, pushing out an endless supply of hot air in what seems like a hopeless pursuit of comfort. These women may not be starving, but they are cold.
Katharine Vingoe-Cram recently graduated from NSCAD with a degree in the fine arts. She currently works as a poster distributor around Halifax.
“It’s not what I thought I’d be doing right now in terms of money-making endeavors,” she says.
Annik Gaudet, her roommate, has an interdisciplinary degree in the fine arts, also from NSCAD. She spent her summer making and selling hula-hoops. She says independent artists need to use their skill set creatively to provide them with some sort of cash flow, no matter how small. She is currently working at Statistics Canada while simultaneously building her arts portfolio.
One day, they both hope to start a collective, an art gallery called North Street. Right now, they take any work they can get.
“I knew it was going to be a long road when I graduated,” says Vingoe-Cram. “One of the biggest challenges in Halifax is finding studio space.”

Gaudet says that being in school was very egocentric. “When you step into the real world and graduate, all of a sudden, nobody cares about your work.”
“You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Vingoe-Cram who bit the bullet and rented a studio last summer. “This kind of work has a self-motivational, self-employment aspect to it.”
“You are your own boss,” says Gaudet, “but you’re always at someone’s mercy.”
One of the biggest challenges for Gaudet is balancing making money and making art. They both say independent artists must be able to budget for their future.
Gaudet, a self-described struggling artist, says the romantic fantasy of the starving artist is unrealistic in the 21st century. “People just have to function within society,” she says.
Maybe this century has brought forth a new breed of artists. They work nine-to-five, they plan their future endeavors, and they balance their budgets.
Undoubtedly it does not immediately satisfy the image of art for art’s sake. Where is the passion in the formerly glorified bohemian lifestyle?
Looking around their apartment, it quickly becomes evident. Art is no less a part of their lives since they decided to seek some alternate form of income. They chose jobs that would allow them the maximum amount of time to work on their craft.
At the end of a long day, they come back to their small house on North Street. No matter what they do during the day, when they come home, they are artists. It takes a passionate person to work all day for money and security, and to then come home and work the sake of joy.
“I felt like I had a million regrets over the past month, but now I feel like they’re all just insignificant,” says Vingoe-Cram. “I know what I want to do, I want to do art. And I think I’m happy now knowing that.”

One reply on “Whither the Bohemians?”

Your article starts out with the bohemian ideal that an artist who sells is most certainly an artistic failure and an artist who does not is an artistic success. But then you interview at least one artist who feels that this ideal is unrealistic, who feels that an artist must function within society. I can’t help but think you were disappointed not to have the bohemian tradition confirmed as alive and well in Halifax’s north-end. Where is the passion for the bohemian lifestyle, you ask. I know a few anecdotes on this subject. I know that in Winnipeg, the Royal Ballet there judges its success by how many people walk out of their performance. The more walk-outs, especially angry, fuming storm outs, the greater their artistic success. I’ve always judged my own work by how controversial it appears to my associates. If they get angry, get frustrated with it, then I know that I am possibly close to something. This measure has little to do with how cold my apartment is, or whether I am a good waiter and get lots of tips that help me pay my bills. Perhaps this measuring stick – controversy caused, is a useful barometer to the bohemian ideal. What was the single most controversial artistic moment in Halifax? I’ve been told it was when an American got a Canada Council grant to drop $1000 worth of pennies off a second floor awning onto Barrington street. All the young artists were there with dust-pans and brooms to sweep it up and take it to their bank. The next day, all of Parliament was in a rage. A bohemian moment, possibly.

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