I have often thought about the term "starving artist". I suppose it can imply various reflections, anything from a wealthy artist living in Paris throwing off the confines of conventionality for the exchange of mixing pigment or the implication of an artist living in abject poverty, enduring personal hardships to getting his basic needs met while honing his skills in a one room dwelling.
I think these are both extremes to the concept of "starving artist". I believe it's possible, that a variation of both ways of living as an artist, is more the norm in this the 21st century. I know many artist colleagues, that even though they will not be the next Robert Bateman or Thomas Kincaid are living a modest lifestyle with a degree of success and riches as a result of their art. I also know colleagues that seek only the bare necessities in life, who have chosen to live simplistically while honing their creative skills.
I guess it also depends on one's definition of a starving artist. Some times, it takes retirement and the time it offers in order to quietly focus on art while at the same time, the fixed income that goes along with retirement can possibly provide certain limitations. Perhaps another definition that could be taken is the artist that continually strives to have their art hung in an art gallery only to find it never is objectively and positively juried thus their income is nominal from this type of venue. Perhaps the definition includes the artist that will spend their last dollar for that on-sale tube of alizarin crimson.
Whatever one's interpretation is, I know that when I find a good deal I'm a happy artist! A couple bottles of glue, some shipping tags, small organizational tubs and the best of all, glossy black/white chipboard letters and symbols. All items found for less than a dollar each. If spending my last loonie in my wallet netted me these creative supplies then so be it...I'm a happy starving artist!
For further pondering you may enjoy an article written by Rowland Jones - Reflections on the Starving Artist.