Study Guide

A Hunger Artist Art and Culture

By Franz Kafka

Art and Culture

The Story

[…] amid some comic banter, designed to distract attention from the artist's condition; a toast to the public, which had allegedly been whispered to the manager by the starvation artist […] (3)

With all of the manager's manipulations of the artist's performance, it seems that the artist's popularity doesn't have anything to do with his art, but is due to the spectacle that his manager engineers.

Why did the crowd, which pretended to admire him so much, have so little patience with him? (3)

Contrast this hypocritical crowd with the innocent children in Quote #2.

[…] given the peculiar nature of this artistry, which does not develop with increasing age […] he would really and for the first time give the world a true reason to be astonished […] (6)

After the artist dumps his manager, he believes that at the circus, he finally has the opportunity to show off what he can do. Why would this be the case, though? Is a circus-going audience really likely to appreciate his "high" art?

No one, not even the starvation artist himself knew how great his achievement really was, and his heart grew heavy. (8)

Sadly, no one, not even the artist, keeps track of how long he's been starving. The artist finally gets what he wants most in the world – to reach the peak of his art form – but can't enjoy it or appreciate it. Why not? Does an artist necessarily need an audience to feel fulfilled?

[…] only he could also be the perfectly assured spectator of his fast. (2)

The ironic thing about starvation art is that only the artist can be the perfect spectator, because only he knows for <em>sure</em> that he is starving all the time. So why even do it?

[…] the starvation artist had never, under any circumstances, even under compulsion, taken in even the slightest morsel: the honor of his art forbade such an action. (2)

The narrator often tells us how strict the starvation regimen is. There's even an "honor" to it.

And he looked up into the eyes of the ladies who seemed so friendly but in reality were so cruel.

Two beautiful women greeting the artist – seems like an image from present-day sporting events, like the Tour de France or a WWE "fight." Some things never change. At this point, the audience seems interested in his performance. Are they really, though? Is that why the ladies are "so cruel"?

A great circus with its innumerable performers and animals and contraptions, forever balancing and supplementing one another, can find work for anybody at any time […] (6)

The circus almost sounds like the perfect society; it's got a place for everybody, including oddities such as the hunger artist. It might also be interesting to compare the circus to the bureaucracies in Kafka's work, most notably in <em>The Trial</em><em>.</em> Kafka's bureaucracies, like the circus here, are huge institutions with myriad workers, whose usefulness is often mysterious and debatable.

[…] while for the grownups it was often only a joke, in which they joined because it was all the rage, the children looked on in open-mouthed wonder […] (1)

As in many Kafka stories, children stand in for a way of looking at the world with wonder and innocence, a way that more jaded and cynical adults have grown out of. He's kind of like Roald Dahl in this way.

[…] one day the pampered starvation artist found himself abandoned by the crowds of pleasure seekers […] Certainly the time for starving, as for all things, would come again, but that was no consolation to the living. (5)

As in Quote #1, the narrator remains tight-lipped as to why the popularity of starvation art declines. By describing the crowd as "pleasure-seekers," the story suggests that the decline in popularity may have something to do with the fact that no one finds pleasure in his performance. (Hmm… is this really surprising?) This quote also seems to suggest that there's something cyclical about the demand for starvation art – sometimes it's popular, sometimes it's not. In other words, it has nothing to do with the artists themselves.

In the past few decades the interest in starvation artists has greatly declined. Whereas earlier it was very profitable to stage independent productions of such grand performances, today that is completely impossible. Times were different then. (1)

The narrator never tells us why starvation art was popular, or why interest in starvation art declined. Which makes us wonder, what kind of a society appreciates hunger art?

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