The life of an artist stems from the originality of their art; however, sometimes the public does not understand or appreciate the art the artist dedicated wholeheartedly to. A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka explored the ambition of an artist to achieve a feat no one had ever accomplished before, but instead of receiving admiration from the spectators the artist is faced with a cold response. The hunger artist used fasting as a form of artistic endeavor for his own liking, but the art is soon turned into a mode of entertainment just to please the public’s fascination, even though they do not appreciate the deeper meaning behind his art.
Being the only one who could truly understand his art completely, the hunger artist is never satisfied and left craving for more. With great irony, the onlookers do not understand, but is fully entertained with the art; while the hunger artist who truly understands his art, but is not yet content. Kafka explored the futility of giving meaning to life through the unconventional and ironic sentimental nature of the hunger artist’s period of fasting. A Hunger Artist began with the artist at the height of his popularity despite the recent declining interest of hunger artists in the last decade. It used to pay very well to stage such great performances under one’s own management, but today that is quite impossible. We live in a different world now” (Kafka 1). Though hunger art drew great attention and money, the narrator never explained why it was popular in the first place; maybe it was because of advanced societies who have enough sustenance yet is fascinated and repulsed by this outrageous form of art of wasting away, performing death.
In addition, it was also not explained why in the recent decade the interest in hunger artists had declined; maybe it was because the audience have seen enough and is no longer interested in seeing someone performing their death or a new life endangering art had emerged. This leaves the readers to wonder what kind of society would appreciate hunger art to even let this kind of morbid act to continue and why would anyone even want to starve himself to display as art. Despite the grotesque nature of hunger art, many spectators found it fascinating. It was the children’s special treat to see the hunger artist; for their elders he was often just a joke that happened to be in fashion, but the children stood openmouthed” (1). However, the elders only found it interesting because hunger art was the latest fad and they had nothing else to do. While, the children exemplify curiosity and innocence because they do not see the wrong in hunger art yet, but only the tingling sensation of excitement the hunger art exuded.
It leaves readers to question whether the children are inherently sentimental responders or cruel, asocial beings that must be taught sympathy instead when facing such scenario. The adults only watched because there was nothing else interesting and the children only watched because of the sentiment, or is it really because of sentiment? A difference in how adults and children look at the world. Regardless of the crowd of people as if they are looking at large cats in zoos, the hunger artist chose to “withdraw deep into himself, paying no attention to anyone or anything” (1). He isolates himself from any contact outside of his cage.
To ensure that the hunger artist does not cheat when there is no one, “permanent watchers were selected by the public, usually butchers, strangely enough, and it was their task to watch the hunger artist day and night” (1). It is ironic that a person skilled in the art of slaughtering and slicing meat is chosen to watch over a man who starves himself as art. A man who cannot eat is guarded by those who slaughter meat for food as a living, seemingly mocking the hunger artist’s situation. This circumstance is similar in Bartleby, the Scrivener when the grubman provided good meals to Bartleby at the lawyer’s expense.
The grubman shoved food at Bartleby even when he renounced everything including food, preferring to waste away but food is still given to him as if teasing him. Despite the constant watch over the hunger artist, no one believed that he actually was starving, that he was cheating. The distrust from the watchmen and the spectators caused the artist mental suffering and loneliness. He longed for the appreciation and understanding by others for his deep devotion and trueness to the rigorousness of his art; thus, he is left feeling dissatisfied since he is the only one who is for sure that he was starving all the time and not cheating.
He is unable to reach the full capability of his art because no one believed in him. The hunger artist’s popularity never had anything to do with his art, but it was because of the engineered spectacle of the performance. Soon the popularity of the hunger artist faded away. “The pampered hunger artist suddenly found himself deserted on fine day by the amusement-seekers, who went streaming past him to other more-favored attractions” (3). The more-favored attraction can be related to the case of Charles Victor Faust in Ragtime.
Charles Victor Faust was a fool who was only kept on the baseball roster for the amusement of the players. However, the players soon got bored with him, like how the spectators got bored with the hunger artist’s art and in the end he died at an insane asylum. The hunger artist is no longer the star of the show and is reduced to a small corner of a circus. The artist continued to fast on and on, but no one cared about the record he was breaking. He finally reached the peak form of his art, but the only person who can appreciate the art of starving is only the hunger artist himself.
When the hunger artist reached the height of his popularity, he was displeased because he could never acquire the full potential of his art, the acknowledgement from others. When he had attained the highest point of his art, he was reduced to the state of almost nothing. Towards the end the readers found out why the hunger artist starved himself in the first place. “Because I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else” (5).
Because of a meaningless eason of being a picky eater, the hunger artist suffered greatly over it throughout his life. The hunger artist had reached the end of his road, but “his dimming eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast” (5). The hunger artist no longer desires the fame and glory that caused him great pain over his career. Tragically, the hunger artist is replaced with a panther, “his noble body, furnished almost to the bursting point with all that it needed, seemed to carry freedom around with it too” (5).
The panther may be a representation of life and freedom, but he is caged and no one will understand the panther, like the artist. To obtain life and freedom there will be barriers in the way of achieving it. Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville and A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka shared many similar aspects. Bartleby is a hunger artist also as if he and the hunger artist is the same person. They share a dark attitude towards life, onset by their unfortunate life experiences. Bartleby had previously worked in the dead letters office and that had left him emotionally detached and divided from the world.
The hunger artist was never able to win the recognition and trust of the spectators through his art. Thus, the hunger artist is never satisfied and left wanting more because of failing to reach his art’s truest form, whereas Bartleby is never satisfied and nourished because of his renouncement from the world. The artist is unnourished because he wants the acceptance of other and Bartleby is unnourished because he does not feel anything; both are purposefully depriving themselves and choose to die of starvation. There is also a feeling of alienation between the two characters.
The hunger artist is separated from everyone inside his metal cage and Bartleby disconnect himself from his colleagues because they highly regard materialistic wealth; both their own decision. Food became symbolic in both stories. Food was a false sense of happiness. The hunger artist cannot have any food or his efforts were fruitless and Bartleby abandoned material goods and food is one of them or he will be a hypocrite if he ate any food; therefore, they no longer could accept it. Both Bartleby and the hunger artist ended up dead, by starvation. A Hunger Artist leaves so many questions readers wished to be answered while reading this story.
This society sees hunger as an art and who would go that far just to receive admiration from others. With reference to how our society uses dieting or plastic surgery to become a highly beautiful piece of “art” just to gain the acceptance from others, not much of a difference between our society and the other. Hence, a misunderstood artist who wished to obtain the peak of his art is faced with an uncomprehending audience in the way of his desired goal. An artist alienated from the world used his art to represent the alienation he felt, which ironically brought him closer to the world.