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Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative Paperback – February 28, 2012
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"Austin Kleon is positively one of the most interesting people on the Internet... Kleon makes an articulate and compelling case for combinatorial creativity and the role of remix in the idea economy."
"Breezy and fun and yes, scary. Scary because it calls your bluff."
"A quick, easily digestible read that is particularly relevant in today's digital world."
"Filled with well-formed advice that applies to nearly any kind of work."
From the Back Cover
- Steal like an artist.
- Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
- Write the book you want to read.
- Use your hands.
- Side projects and hobbies are important.
- The secret: do good work and share it with people.
- Geography is no longer our master.
- Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
- Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
- Creativity is subtraction.
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The idea behind stealing like an artist is that “nothing is completely original… All creative work builds on what came before... If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”
“We learn by copying. We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism—plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse engineering… Remember: Even The Beatles started as a cover band.”
“You are the sum of your influences… Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by… Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff… You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes… That’s what you really want—to internalize their way of looking at the world… It is the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.”
“You have to be curious about the world in which you live… Always be reading…. Don’t worry about doing research. Just search.”
“You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with… If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.”
“The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.”
The author urges readers to “step away from the screen… You need to find a way to bring your body into your work… If we strum a guitar, or shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay, the motion kickstarts our brain into thinking… The computer is really good for editing your ideas… but it’s not really good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key.”
Kleon points out the value of side projects and hobbies in sparking creativity. “By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens… I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going on at once so you can bounce between them. When you get sick of one project, move over to another… Practice productive procrastination.” The author quotes playwright Steven Tomlinson about having diverse interests: “Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen.”
“Creativity is subtraction.” The answer to information overload is to “figure out what to leave out” so you can focus on what’s most important to you. “It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom… Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time.”
Kleon touches on the theme of his second book, Show Your Work. “If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people. It’s a two-step process… Not everyone will get it… So get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored—the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.” That said, the author says to, “enjoy your obscurity while it lasts… There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract your form getting better.”
On a final note, Kleon writes, “Your mileage may vary… Feel free to take what you can use and leave the rest.”
Austin Kleon is an artist from Austin, TX, and in Steal Like An Artist he asserts that what good artists do—that is, "stealing" as much as possible from as many influences as possible to shape one's own unique style—is a concept that can carry over into virtually any line of work. And while there are a number of people out there who have made the case that we are all a product of our influences, few have communicated this truth so compelling and creatively as Kleon.
The reality is that someone can "know" that's true, yet still feel bound by a desire to be "original" than can have a debilitating effect on creativity. I know, because I'm that guy. And that's why I'm so thankful to have been told to read this book, because it's definitely a game changer for me!
Kleon's 10 short chapters each present a different principle for developing creativity, and though it's a numbered list, it manages not to come across as a "how to" manual. Rather, it's a testimonial borne from experience, and an encouragement that these timeless principles (e.g., "Be Nice") really do work in the real world, and they really are things that don't apply only to artists. It's a book which manages to be both artistic and pragmatic... not an easy combination!
Anyway, I've already written a review that will take you half as long to read as the book itself, so stop reading this and go get the book!
"If we're free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and embrace influence instead of running away from it." ~ Austin Kleon
Top international reviews
I needed this book, but didn't know about it until it was recommended.
I'd reached out to the group about the fact that as an illustrator I felt a bit lost in the creative world, like I hadn't found my place, because I didn't have a 'style' by which people could recognise my work, and no particular style that I favoured illustrating over others, I just felt like I wasn't a real illustrator if I didn't produce consistent work that was clearly 'me', like everyone else seems to do. I would (and still do really) trawl through the art by others I admired, and be able to say oh that's by so and so, they're so good!
No one could do that with me, as my illustrations are so random, there's no cohesion. Should I stop putting my art out there until I know who I am as an artist?
So this book was one of two recommended to me to read (find your artistic voice by Lisa Congdon is the other).
And I'm so glad I did buy this. It all made sense, it all seemed so relatable, in particular section 2 - Don't wait until you know who you are to get started.
If you're an artist just starting out, or one who already creates a lot of art (any kind of creation really) and are unsure you belong in the creative world yet because you're not good enough, or you're not original enough, or you don't know your style yet - get this book.
Every aspiring, yet insecure and fearful artist should read this book.
The book made me think about copying over plagiarism in a different way. Modification and expansion of ideas is core to Austin’s take on creativity. His tips on how to manage creativity were great too.
I remember writing, probably awful, poetry as a teen and loved doing it but gave it up when work and awkwardness set in in early adult life. His chapter on being the sum of your interests resonated.
I will definitely be working through his other books.
Insightful, honest, comfortingly realistic about limitations (see marry well section) and inspiring.