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?
Questions About Art and Culture
How is starvation an art form for the hunger artist? What distinguishes starvation as an art form from simple starvation? What is involved in a typical performance?
How does the manager manipulate the hunger artist's performance? How does he interfere in the relationship between the artist and his audience?
How does the public react to the hunger artist's performance? Why was he so popular? Why did his popularity decline?
How does the hunger artist's performance change once he becomes part of the circus? How does his act compare to the spectacle provided by the animals in their cages? How do the spectators at the circus treat the hunger artist?
Why do you think that Kafka chose starvation as form of art instead of some other unusual behavior?
Is the hunger artist a true artist, or is he simply a picky eater? Is it possible for him to be both?
Chew on This
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.