Book Review: Steal Like an Artist

May 13, 2013


Creativity is one of those ideas that brings about a different range of emotions for different people. For some, creativity feels elusive…just out of reach and difficult to experience. For others, creativity is something encouraged and expressed on a regular basis. I had a chance to read Austin Kleon‘s Steal Like and Artist recently and enjoyed his take on adding and experiencing more creativity in our lives.

What I enjoyed about Kleon’s book is the premise that all ideas are not original. Whenever we feel pressure to come up with something, we need to realize that very few ideas are ever truly original. According to Kleon, “what a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”

Knowing this can be liberating for artists, thinkers and the average person looking to create “the next big thing” or a better something.

Here are three ideas from the book that I enjoyed…

Start Copying

Kleon argues that successful people and artists are not necessarily original. They had influences that shaped their work. This includes everyone from the Beatles to artists like Salvador Dali and athletes like Kobe Bryant and more. He invites readers to copy others’ and perform a sort of “reverse-engineering” which is like a “mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.”

Important to note that copying does not mean plagiarizing. It means allowing yourself to be influenced by others’ creative work. I know I have been influenced and inspired by countless musicians, writers, artists, photographers and chefs (especially my mother). How does this influence my work? I’m not sure…but the sum of these influences is me. And my influences and body of work continue to evolve.

Step Away From the Screen

“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

Kleon argues that, in order to become more creative, we need to step away from our computer. He believes that we need more movement in our lives…whether it be strumming a guitar, playing with clay or physically shifting papers. He believes in analog first, then digital. This movement allows us to gain a different perspective and make different connections in our mind.

Kleon also goes on to explain how he has two workstations…one analog for pens, markers, paper, sticky notes and one digital for his computer and other electronic gadgets. He keeps them separate and the analog workstation is where he generates most of his ideas and the digital workstation is where he edits these ideas.

Choose What to Leave Out

In the information-loaded world we live in, Kleon believes that it is more important than ever that we create some constraints and leave certain information out of our minds and our work. Too much information and too many influences may paralyze and overload us.

I like his quote…”In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.”

Steal Like an Artist is a quick, fun read broken down into bit-sized nuggets of wisdom. Filled with drawings, quotes and reverse type, it invites us to think of creativity a little differently. If you’re in need of a creative tune up or looking to try something a little different in any aspect of your life, pick up this book.

How about you…do you have any ideas that have helped you become a more interesting, effective person? Please share…I’d love to hear from you.