It’s the furore over Anna Hazare and his campaign to combat corruption in India that’s inspired this post. He’s been in the news constantly over his plans to fast in protest against graft, with the powers that be dutifully ensuring him further coverage. Ok, less Anna Hazare. More his hunger.

It makes one question whether there might be a link between inspiration and hunger. Does one represent the other? Does the second lead to the first?

The sublime master Kafka has addressed the link between art and hunger in a famous story – The Hunger Artist.

It’s the tale of a person whose very art is fasting, depriving himself for extended periods. Here’s how Kafka narrates it:


 Back then the hunger artist captured the attention of the entire city. From day to day while the fasting lasted, participation increased. Everyone wanted to see the hunger artist at least daily. During the final days there were people with subscription tickets who sat all day in front of the small barred cage. And there were even viewing hours at night, their impact heightened by torchlight. On fine days the cage was dragged out into the open air, and then the hunger artist was put on display particularly for the children. While for grown-ups the hunger artist was often merely a joke, something they participated in because it was fashionable, the children looked on amazed, their mouths open, holding each other’s hands for safety, as he sat there on scattered straw—spurning a chair—in a black tights, looking pale, with his ribs sticking out prominently, sometimes nodding politely, answering questions with a forced smile, even sticking his arm out through the bars to let people feel how emaciated he was, but then completely sinking back into himself, so that he paid no attention to anything, not even to what was so important to him, the striking of the clock, which was the single furnishing in the cage, merely looking out in front of him with his eyes almost shut and now and then sipping from a tiny glass of water to moisten his lips.

Another great character in the history of art to have an interesting relationship with hunger was the gifted, tortured madman Vincent Van Gogh. Who cut off an ear and presented it to a prostitute. Who got into fights more often than most get out of their pants.

In a 2003 article in the Guardian, journalist Jonathan Jones mentions the surrealist Joan Miro from Barcelona. His powerfully wild flights of fancy were powered not by nutrition but starvation.  The article can be found here.

Food is a great theme in art, but hunger is more important still. It was starvation, said the surrealist Joan Miro, that induced the visions he recorded in dream paintings such as The Birth of the World(1925), which depicts a cosmic or microscopic level of existence in which spermatozoic forms float in a primordial soup.

When he arrived in Paris from Catalonia in the 1920s, Miro could barely afford to eat. “I was living on a few dried figs a day. I was too proud to ask my colleagues for help. Hunger was a great source of hallucinations. I would sit for long periods looking at the bare walls of my studio trying to capture these shapes on paper or burlap.”

Starving Myself Joan Miro

And then of course, there’s Picasso. He didn’t head out of occupied France during World War II. Food was not easy to come by, and it was there, says Jones, that he painted images of “carnivalesque oral rage.’ Such as this classic – Still life with a Pigeon

In modern times, art’s minimal and abstract tendencies seem to come from a surfeit. Of having too much. Of consuming too much. Of being surrounded by detail.

But hunger, it’s a powerful tool to inspire creativity. The feeling of wanting. Of being kept away from succor. Of being in a perpetual state of miserable, inspiring hunger. Powerful stuff.

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