Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative – by Austin Kleon
January 12, 2017
This books takes maybe an hour to read, and it's a fantastic read. So go get it, and read it!
But if you don't have an hour, below is a summary and some key highlights. Plus an adorable picture of a squirrel doing it's bit to steal like an artist (you're welcome).
Steal Like An Artist is a quick read that feels more like a comic book than a “proper” book. In this book, Austin Kleon presents 10 principles aimed to help readers discover their artistic side and build a more creative life. The book builds on the fundamental concept that nothing is original. Therefore, as a creative, you should embrace influence and educate yourself through the work of those you admire. Mix and match what you learn in order to create your own style and develop something new.
“Art is theft.” – Pablo Picasso
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” – T. S. Elliot
“It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.” – Mark Twain
“We want you to take form us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” – Francis Ford Coppola
“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” – Yohji Yamamoto
Steal Like and Artist
When you look at the world in this way, you stop worrying about what’s “good” and what’s “bad” – there’s only stuff that’s worth stealing, and stuff that’s not worth stealing.
Nothing is original. Every new idea is just a mashup or remix of one or more previous ideas.
You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.
Garbage in, garbage out. You are only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.
The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work.
Create your own artistic “family” tree. Pick one thinker – writer, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find 3 people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up that tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.
School Yourself. Google Everything: Google your dreams, Google your problems. Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question.
Keep a Swipe File: a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. It can be digital or analog, it doesn’t matter what form it takes. See something worth stealing? Put it in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file. Newspaper reporters call this a “morgue file.” Your morgue file is where you keep the dead things that you’ll later reanimate in your work
Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started:
You’re ready. Start making stuff.
Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.
Fake it ‘til you make it. There are two ways to interpret this phrase, both of which are beneficial.
Pretend to be something you’re not until you are – fake it until you’re successful, until everybody see’s you the way you want them to.
Pretend to be making something until you actually make something.
You have to start somewhere. Remember, even the Beatles started as a cover band.
Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind that style. You don’t want to look like your heroes; you want to see like your heroes.
Write The Book You Want to Read:
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.
Use Your Hands:
“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops.” – John Cleese
You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. Our nerves aren’t a one-way street – our bodies can tell our brains as much as our brains tell our bodies. You know the phrase, “going through the motions?” That’s what’s so great about creative work: If we just start going through the motions, if we strum the guitar, or shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, the motion kick starts our brain into thinking.
Art that only comes form the head isn’t any good.
This notion supports the idea of having creative, hands-on, break stations at work, with for example, puzzles and Legos. Giving people a chance to use their brain differently and get into the motions of problem solving.
Side Projects & Hobbies Are Important:
Don’t throw any of yourself away. If you have 2 or 3 passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs
The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It With People
Step one, “do good work”, is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Know you’re going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better.
Step two, “share it with people,” was really hard up until about 10 years ago. Now, it’s simple: “Put your stuff on the internet.”
Bob Ross taught people how to paint. He gave his secrets away. Martha Stewart teaches you how to make your house and your life awesome. She gives her secrets away. People love it when you give your secrets away, and sometimes, if you’re smart about it, they’ll reward you by buying the things you’re selling.
“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” – Howard Aiken
Geography Is No Longer Our Master:
Build your own world. You don’t have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in. Instead of a geographic community, tap into online communities.
Leave home. Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.
Be Nice (The World Is a Small Town):
Make friends. Ignore enemies.
Follow the best people online – the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work. Pay attention to what they’re talking about, what they’re doing, and what they’re linking to.
“Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful.” – Harold Ramis
Quit picking fights and go make something. Instead of wasting my anger on complaining or lashing out at people, I try to channel it into my writing and my drawing. So go on, get angry. But keep your mouth shut and go do your work.
Be Boring (It’s The Only Way To Get Work Done):
Schedule a regular time for your creative pursuits. Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time. Inertia is the death of creativity. You have to stay in the groove. When you get out of the groove, you start to dread the work, because you know it’s going to suck for a while – it’s going to suck until you get back into the flow.
Amassing a body of work or building a career is a lot about the slow accumulation of little bits of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.
Get a calendar. Fill the boxes. Don’t break the chain. Each day, when you’re finished with your work, make a big fat X in the day’s box on your calendar. Every day, instead of just getting work done, your goal is to fill a box. “After a few days you’ll have a chain,” Seinfeld says. “Just keep at it an the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Creativity is Subtraction
Choose what to leave out. In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them. Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying. The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.
Don’t make excuses for not working – make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now.
In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out. Choose wisely, and have fun.