I recently watched Austin Kleon’s TEDx talk in which he summarizes his idea of stealing like an artist. The idea is simple, there is creativity everywhere and as an artist, it is your responsibility to draw from the works of others. In the TEDx talk, Kleon quotes great artists like Igor Stravinsky, Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, David Bowe, and T.S Elliot all of whom speak about how they used the creativity of others for their own art. This lead me to read Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, and the following are the lessons I took away from it.
- There is no good art or bad art, rather art that is worth stealing and other that is not. A change in perspective is required in order to see what can help you.
- Nothing is original. Art that you may think is completely unique and original simply means that you are not aware of the references that the artist drew from.
- A good artist collects and draws inspiration from everything. To this point, Kleon advises you to carry a notebook around in your everyday life. So, you can jot down observations and thoughts, compile passages/sentences that you like, record conversations you overhear that you enjoyed and so on.
- Another practical use is creating a swipe file/morgue file. This file is a digital-analog which keeps track of the stuff you have “swiped”, art that you think is worth stealing. The morgue aspect of this practice is the idea that you will eventually reanimate these ideas.
- You are not stealing the style, rather the thinking behind the style. This way you get an understanding of the process and glimpse into the mind of artists you admire. For example, Cormac McCarthy and James Joyce are known to disregard quotation marks in their writing. Why is that? Understand their thought process and perhaps use it in your own work.
- Not enough time is an issue many artists have. You might have to balance between work life, relationships and your art. However, keeping a routine can be more important than having lots of time. I’m guilty of wasting days which were completely free and open. Routine helps a lot. Even if it is just an hour in the morning. That hour every day adds up.
These were the main points that have stuck with me. I think a lot of people wish to create, to express their needs in a creative manner but fail to do so because of the pressure to be unique. I know I’ve felt it. But in reality, everyone draws from something that has come before. Great art is riddled with references to the works of others if you look deep enough. It is just that if you do it right then your work is considered part of the lineage of the art that has come before it but if you do it wrong, then it is considered stealing.
As Kobe Bryant says:
There isn’t a move that’s a new move.