Can you call an act a performance if no one recognizes it as a performance? That is the fundamental predicament of Kafka's hunger artist. Can starvation even count as an art form? We're not sure, but even at the height of his popularity, the artist is never appreciated or understood. Kafka's story never tells us why the popularity of the hunger artist's act takes a nosedive – only that the artist's popularity is symptomatic of some larger shift in society. What is it about society or human nature that drives so many crowds to seek out the spectacle of a man starving himself? And what does it mean when the same crowds lose their appetite for the hunger artist and prefer the spectacle of caged animals instead?
In Kafka's "A Hunger Artist," the indifference and ignorance of the public, even at the height of the artist's popularity, suggests a deep problem in society.
By treating starvation as an art form, Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" challenges traditional notions of art.