I’m a thief. At least I want to be a thief. Since reading this New York Times Best Seller by Austin Kleon, I have been stealing like crazy. Don’t worry, the author clarifies the difference between plagiarism and stealing and rest assured I am all out stealing. The concept behind Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative is that we learn by copying. As Mr.Kleon reminds us, even as youngsters we learn how to talk and walk by copying those older people around us. The more we copy the more practice we get doing what we love. Eventually the final version is our own. The fact that we were inspired and influenced by the work of others leads us to our own discoveries and creations. This is what stealing is all about. If you are looking for a book to take with you on vacation, you won’t go wrong with packing this little treasure in your suitcase. The graphics, photos and easy to read format are engaging on all levels. You will find yourself flipping from page to page and back again preparing for your new assignment as thief in training.
The Big Idea
Nothing is Original
"All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original."
The premise for this book, which I have read twice already, is that nothing is original. When I first read this I have to admit it took me by surprise. I had never really thought about it before. What completely resonated with me, as I pondered the notion that it all has been done before, is that this idea is actually very freeing. It removes the “burden of trying to be completely original.” No pressure. Can’t come up with that new product? Pulling your hair out to develop the next best viral sensation? Trying to figure out what to write about next? No pressure. It has already been done before. So, go look at the best of what has been done before and steal from it.
Steal like an artist
"Art is theft."
Austin Kleon, a writer and artist himself, speaks to the age old question that people ask creative types, “Where do you come up with all your ideas?” As Mr. Kleon says: “every new idea is just a mash up or a remix of one or more ideas.”
Of course, ideas can come and go with daily life. And interruptions can cause a perpetual state of forgetfulness (at least for me). That is why, as the author suggests, you should always carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. This way when you see something, experience or hear something new, you can pull it out and jot down your impressions, feelings or thoughts. Try “copying favorite passages out of books, record overheard conversations or doodle when you’re on the phone.”
To steal like an artist you need to view anything and everything as a potential source. Take from it what you will and make it your own. A starting point is to copy what and who you love. Your heroes, whether literary, academic, or scientific all offer a field of ideas ripe for the stealing. It can be overwhelming this stealing like an artist so “first, you figure out what’s worth stealing, and then you move on to the next thing.” The author suggests that you go deep when you steal and “don’t just steal the style but the real treasure worth stealing is the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes; you want to see like your heroes.”
"Always be reading… It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to."
Austin Kleon is a big fan of schooling himself in the analog world. He believes in being a regular at your local library and physically surrounding yourself with lots of books. He says “nothing is more important than an unread library.”
In this digital age I find the premise of surrounding yourself with physical books to be ‘avant-garde’ as so many advocate for the latest tablet or electronic gadget. But of course, Austin Kleon is talking to a kindred spirit here, with his love and appreciation for books in print.
This idea of following a literary trail of any book is almost magical. A little like the breadcrumb trail that the fairy tale characters Hansel and Gretel left to help them find their way home. Following the trail starting with one book could take you absolutely anywhere. Places you have never gone before, encountering ideas you probably have never though. Places full of ideas to steal.
Another method of schooling yourself that Austin Kleon writes about is sharing. Here the idea is that the more you share, the more you learn. Sort of the reverse of stealing I suppose. He speaks from experience when he says that he’s “learned so much from the people that submit poems to my site. I find a lot of things to steal, too. It benefits me as much as it does them.”
It takes a bit of getting used to, to think of yourself as a thief as we immediately associate the word with an illegal, deviant form of behavior. But, I think Mr. Kleon is on to something. So, I for one, will embrace this kind of thievery and will share the results of my loot with whomever is interested.