Steal Like An Artist – by Austin Kleon
Steal Like An Artist shows us that everyone needs a little more creativity in their lives. This isn’t just for the stereotypical ‘artist’ who’s making oil paintings and sculptures, it’s for everyone that can enhance their work by injecting more flavour. This book is all about getting started on that journey toward producing more art more regularly, as well as some secret (and not-so-secret) tips and tricks to doing better work.
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Steal Like An Artist
Art isn’t just for painters and sculptors. Art is anything we do that takes cognitive effort and emotional investment. All of us can make our work better (and more enjoyable) by injecting more ‘art’ into what we do. And ‘stealing’ might be just the right step to get you started on your artistic journey.
When you’re just starting out, it might feel impossible to make anything ‘good’ that is entirely your own your own. It might feel impossible, for that matter, to make ANYTHING that is entirely your own. The good news is you don’t have to.
No one expects a first timer to come up with something that’s never been heard before, and by the same token, no one really expects ANYONE to come up with something that is entirely brand new. As writer Audre Lorde said, “there are no new ideas, just new ways of making them felt”.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t let you off the hook. Just saying that you’ll never come up with a wholly original idea doesn’t mean you should give up right now and never try to create anything. Quite the opposite in fact – it relieves the pressure of having to be ‘original’ and allows you to get on with your work. Knowing that you can’t possibly come up with a brand new idea allows you to start creating more and sharing more and putting more of your work out into the world.
Everybody could inject more creativity into their work. This book isn’t just for ‘artists’, but instead how everyone can add more artistic elements into what they do. Kleon suggests that there are really no new ideas, just different ways of mixing them together. If you can borrow (or ‘steal’) and mix them together in your own unique way, you’ve made art. Even Picasso said, a pretty serious artist in his own right, “art is theft”. Obviously we’re not talking about going out and literally stealing or plagiarising – printing off a picture of the Mona Lisa and putting your name on it won’t work. Instead, we’re borrowing a few bits and pieces from a few different sources, and we put them through our own process of remixing, recycling and reusing. Something different comes out the other end. It started as somebody else’s idea, we stole it from them, but the result is something that looks like our own. Realising that you can use the ideas of others in your own work is a much more realistic starting place than believe that you have to start with a blank slate and make something that nobody else has ever thought of before.
Austin Kleon says that some people are waiting to ‘discover themselves’ or work out ‘who they really are’ before they start making art. This is the exact wrong way to go about it: you should start creating new things in order to find out who you are. In the early discovery phases, you should pick someone that you really like and respect. Steal things from them. For example, if it’s your boss it might the way they add an extra element of emotion into their emails, the way they structure and design their PowerPoint presentations, the colours they use for their graphs, the way they speak to the person behind the counter when they buy lunch (again, we’re starting small: you don’t have to carve the Statue of David to be an artist, you just need to interact with the world in your own unique way and inject some creativity into your work). If it’s one of your favourite authors, say Seth Godin, try to borrow some of his style and sentence structure the next time you write something. From there, after you’ve gone deep on one of your heroes, then find the three people that had the biggest impact on them. Found out the types of artists that inspired your inspirational artist and then look for things to steal from them. Continuing with the Seth Godin idea, you might look into Zig Ziglar and Tom Peters and add these artists to your family tree. The more you borrow little pieces and begin to create more and more art, you’ll soon be ‘discovering yourself’ and ‘find your own voice’. Now that you’re on a bit of a roll, you won’t need to ‘steal’ as much and you’ll start sprouting an artist family tree of your own.
As we begin to inject more creativity into our work, we’ll probably start to second guess ourselves a little. It’s scary to do things a little different, so we might try to revert back to the safety of our comfort zone. If we’re typing into a computer, it’s very easy to highlight everything and hit ‘delete’. The problem is we’re often editing our ideas before they’ve fully formed. We need to give ourselves permission to try new things and fully express what’s on our mind – the expression should come first, then the editing should come way later.
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