A Summary of the Excellent Book By Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist!

10 Things nobody told you about being creative  

Steal Like an Artist
  • Where do artists ideas come from? The only correct answer is that they steal them.
  • Taking ideas takes the pressure off having a good or a bad idea. There is only stuff worth stealing and not worth stealing, and everything is up for grabs.
  • Nothing is original. When people call things original they most likely just do not know the sources that it references or steals from.
  • Nothing comes from nowhere, and all creative work builds on what has come before it.
  • Be free of the burden of trying to create something out of nothing and embrace influence.
  • “What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.”Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.
  • A good example is your genetics; you have a mother and father and their genes mixed, so you have features of both.
  • You can pick what books you read and what music you listen to, and you are a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.
  • You are the sum of all your influences.
  • “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love,” – Goethe
  • Garbage in, garbage out. The artist is a collector, not a hoarder. The artist only carefully selects and collect the things they love.
  • Your ideas will only be as good as the stuff that surrounds you.
  • Your job is to collect good ideas.
  • “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.” – Jim Jarmusch
  • ”I don’t believe in art. I believe in artist” – Michael Duchamp.
  • You cannot digest the entire history of your discipline, instead find one artist in your subject that you love and study everything there is to know about them. Then find who that artists influences were and who they loved and find everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can.
  • Create your branch of this tree and see yourself as part of the creative lineage.
  • 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 and their work.
  • School yourself. You have to be curious about the world in which we live, look things up and chase down references and go deeper than anyone else.
  • “Whether I went to school or not, I would always study,” – Rza
  • Always be reading, get lost in stacks and stacks of books, collect books even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Just continue searching.
  • Save your thefts for later. Carry a notebook and pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations.Copy your favorite passages out of books.
  • Make sure you always have a way of recording inspiration at all times.
  • Keep a swipe file, a file to keep track of everything you have stolen from others.If you see something worth stealing put it in your swipe file.
  • “It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected”. – Mark Twain

Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started. 

  • Make things and know thyself. If you want to know yourself before you make things, then you would just be sitting around trying to figure things out instead of making things.
  • You are ready to make stuff already, and this is how you will find out who you are.
  • You may feel like an imposter, that you are winging it and don’t have any idea what you are doing, Well the truth is nobody has any idea of what they are doing.
  • Just show up and do your thing every day.
  • Fake it till you make it. Pretend to be making something until you make something.
  • Dress for the job you want not the job you have and do the work you wish to be doing.
  • “You start out a phony then become real.” – Glen O Brien.
  • All the world is a stage, and creative work is a kind of theater.
  • Start copying. Nobody is born with a style or voice. We learn by copying. Practice not plagiarism. Copying is reverse engineering, taking something apart to see how it works.
  • “Start copying what you love.” Copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.
  • We learn to write by copying down the alphabet.
  • Even the Beatles started as a cover band.
  • “Those who do not want to imitate anything, practice nothing” – Salvador Dali.
  • Figure out who to copy, and then figure out what to copy.
  • Copy your heroes who you love are inspired by and who you want to be.
  • You start out by copying your heroes catalog” – Nick Lowe.
  • Don’t steal from one of your heroes, steal from all of them. If you steal from one, it’s plagiarism, but steal from many and its research.
  • What to copy is a little bit trickier, don’t just steal the style, take the thinking behind the style.
  • You don’t want to look like your heroes you wish to see like your heroes.
  • You want to internalize their way of looking at the world. You do not just wish to mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding its origin.
  • Imitation is not flattery.
  • “ We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from use, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you, and you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” – Frances Ford Coppola.
  • At some point you will have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Emulation is one step further than imitation, breaking through into your own thing.
  • “There isn’t a move that’s a new move” – Kobe Bryant
  • Humans are incapable of making perfect copies and these failures will be where you discover your own thing. That is evolution.
  • Copy your heroes and examine where you fall short. What is in there that is different ? Amplify it and make it your own.
  • Transform your heroes work into something of your own. This is how you flatter them.
  • Add something to the world that only you can add.

Write the book you want to read. 

  • “ My interest in making music has been to create something that does not exist that i would like to listen too. I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened, by putting things together that suggested a new thing that did not yet exist.” – Brian Eno.
  • We make art because we like art.
  • We are drawn to certain kinds of work because we are inspired by the people making it.
  • Write the kind of story you like best and want to read.
  • Write or record what you would want a sequel to look or sound like. We crave sequels so channel that into something productive.
  • Draw what 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 on laptops.” – John Cleese
  • Step away from the screen. Your hands are the original digital devices so use them.
  • Computers put a barrier between us and the work we are doing , this is why knowledge work is so abstract, you never get to touch what you are making.
  • Work that only comes from the head isn’t any good. You need to find a way to bring your body into your work..
  • Our body can tell our brains as much as our brains tell our bodies.
  • “I have stared long enough at the glowing flat rectangles of computer screens. Let us give more time for doing things in the real world … plant a plant, walk the dogs, read a real book, go to the opera.” – Edward Tufte.
  • The computer is really good for editing your ideas and its really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out in the world but its not good for generating ideas.
  • The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist.
  • If you can set up two workstations, one analog and one digital. On the analog workstation keep out anything electronic, just use pens paper and pencils. Once you start getting ideas then you can move over to your digital workstations.

Side projects and hobbies are important. 

  • “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” – Jessica Hische.
  • Practice productive procrastination. Its the side projects that really take off. Stuff that is just play that is actually the good stuff is where the magic happens.
  • Have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them.
  • Take time to be bored. Creative people just need time to sit around and be bored.
  • If you are out of ideas, wash the dishes, take a long walk.Take the time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it will lead.
  • Dont throw any of yourself away. Keep all your passions in your life. Don’t feel like you have to pick or choose. If you live different things spend time with them and let them talk to each other.
  • Its important to have a hobby that is something creative thats just for you. You just do it to make you happy.
  • Dont worry about a grand scheme and unified vision for your work, what unifies your work is the fact that you made it.
  • One day you will look back and it will all make sense.

The Secret: Do good work and share it with people. 

  • In the beginning obscurity is good. You want attention only after you are doing really good work. There’s no pressure when you are unkown. You can do what you want. Experiment and do things just for the fun of it.
  • When you are unknown there is nothing to distract you from getting better, no public image to manage , no huge paycheck on the line, no stockholders or hangers on.
  • You will never get that freedom back again once people start paying attention.
  • Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. Use it.
  • The not so secret formula. There is only one not so secret formula for becoming known. Do good work and share it with people.
  • Its a two step process. “do good work” is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff everyday and accept that it is going to suck for a while. Fail and get better.
  • Step two “Share it with people” now this is very simple just “Put it on the internet”.
  • Wonder at something and then invite people to wonder with you.
  • Wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about.
  • The more open you are about sharing your passions the closer people will feel to your work.
  • When you open up your process and invite people in , you learn.
  • Get on the internet , figure out how to make a website, figure out blogging and social media. find people on the internet who love the same things as you and connect with them Share things with them.
  • You dont have to share everything. You can show just a little bit of what you are working on , a glimpse of your process, a sketch or a doodle.
  • Think about what you can share that will be of value to people. Mention a good book you are reading.
  • “Dont 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 dont have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in .
  • Surround yourself with books and objects that you love, tape things up on the wall. Create your own world.
  • All you need is a little space and a little time. A place to work and some time to do it If your living situation doesn’t allow for that you can find solitude and captivity in the wild.
  • Carry a book and a pen and a notepad and enjoy any solitude or temporary captivity you have.
  • Leave Home. Where we choose to live does still have an impact on our work. You have to leave home at least once, you can always come back.
  • Travel makes the world look new and when the world looks new the brain works harder.
  • It helps to live around interesting people and not necessarily people who do what you do.
  • You have to find a place that feeds you, creatively , socially, spiritually and literally.

Be nice. (The world is a small town.) 

  • Make friends, ignore enemies. Theres only one reason i’m here: Im here to make friends.
  • “Theres only one rule i know of: You’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut
  • The best way to vanquish your enemies on the Internet ? Ignore them. The best way to make friends on the internet? Say nice things about them.
  • Stand next to the talent. You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with.
  • “The only mofos in my circle are people that I can learn from” – Questlove.
  • If you ever find that you are the most talented person in the room you need to find another room.
  • .You are going to see a lot of stupid stuff out there in the world, and you are going to feel the need to correct it.
  • But anger can be used to create , so if you get angry keep your mouth shut and go do your work.
  • “Complain about the way other people make software by making software.” – Andre Torrez
  • Write fan letters. If you truly love somebody’s work you shouldn’t need a response from them. You can write public fan letters and publish them on the internet.
  • The important thing is to show your appreciation without expecting anything in return and that you get new work out of the appreciation.
  • Validation is for parking. “Modern art = i could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t” – Craig Damrauer.
  • The trouble with creative work: Sometimes by the time people catch on to what’s valuable about what you do you are either bored to death with it or dead.
  • You can’t go looking for validation from external sources.Once you put your work into the world, you have no control over the way people will react to it.
  • Ironically really good work appears to be effortless. People won’t see the years of sweat and toil that went into it.
  • Not everyone will get it and people will misinterpret you.  Get comfortable with being misunderstood. Just be too busy doing your work to care.
  • Keep a praise file. Yes validation is for parking but it is still a tremendous boost when people say nice things about your work. Keep any praise you receive in a separate folder and when the dark days roll around and you need a boost open up the folder and read some of the contents. Then get back to work. Don’t get lost in the past glory.

Be boring (Its the only way to get work done.) 

  • “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work” – Gustave Flaubert.
  • Take care of yourself. It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don’t have energy to waste on other stuff.
  • Eat breakfast. Exercise. Go for long walks and get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay out of debt. Learn about money as soon as you can. Its not the money you make but the money you hold onto.
  • Make yourself a budget and live within your means. Save as much as you can , get the education you need for as cheap as you can get it.
  • The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture.
  • Keep your day job. Even if you are lucky to make a living off doing what you truly love it will probably take you a while to get to that point.
  • Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art.
  • “If you don’t take money they can’t tell you what to do” – Bill Cunningham.
  • Learn things in your job that you can use in your work later.
  • The worst thing a day job does is take time away from you but it makes up for that by giving you a daily routine in which you can schedule a regular time for your creative pursuits.
  • Figure out what time you can carve out, what time you can steal and stick to your routine.
  • Do the work every day no matter what. No Holidays. No Sick Days. Dont Stop.
  • Get yourself a calendar. Amassing a body of work is 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 can fill a novel.
  • A calendar helps you plan your work, gives you concrete goals and keeps you on track.
  • Keep a logbook. Just as you need a chart of future events you also need a chart of past events. Its just a little book where you keep a list of the things you did each day.
  • Its much easier than keeping a diary and the small details will help you remember the big details.
  • Marry Well.Who you marry is the most important decision you will ever make. It doesn’t just mean your life partner it also means who you do business with, who you befriend, who you choose to be around.
  • A good partner keeps you grounded.

Creativity is Subtraction 

  • Choose what to leave out.  We have information abundance and overload. Those that will get ahead are the people that figure out what to leave out to they can concentrate on what’s really important to them.
  • The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. Limitations mean freedom.
  • Dont make excuses for not working, make things with the time, space and materials you have right now.
  • “Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world , all the colors in the palette, anything you want, just kills creativity.” – Jack White.
  • “What we respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations” – Saul Steinberg.
  • Its often what the artist chooses to leave out that makes the art interesting.
  • You must embrace limitations and keep moving.
  • Creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in its the things we choose to leave out. Choose Wisely and have fun.

“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 wields his theft into a whole of feeling that is unique, utterly different from which it was born.” – T.S. Elliot

“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff I can steal from” – David Bowie.

There is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said but since no one was listening to everything it must be said again” – Andre Gide