Here are my notes on, Steal Like an Artist, By: Austin Kleon.
All advice is autobiographical.
How does an artist look at the world? First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing. That’s about all there is to it.
“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” —David Bowie
What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original. It’s right there in the Bible: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 9)
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” —William Ralph Inge
Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.
The German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.
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.
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.
“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” —Yohji Yamamoto
Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying. We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism—plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works. We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces.
“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
The writer Wilson Mizner said if you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. I once heard the cartoonist Gary Panter say, “If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original!”
The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want—to internalize their way of looking at the world. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.
In the end, merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them.
Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add.
The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like.
Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. The same principle applies to your life and your career: Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?”
When we love a piece of work, we’re desperate for more. We crave sequels.
Why not channel that desire into something productive?
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.
“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 it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not really good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us—we start editing ideas before we have them. The cartoonist Tom Gauld says he stays away from the computer until he’s done most of the thinking for his strips, because once the computer is involved, “things are on an inevitable path to being finished. Whereas in my sketchbook the possibilities are endless.”
That’s how I try to do all my work now. I have two desks in my office—one is “analog” and one is “digital.” The analog desk has nothing but markers, pens, pencils, paper, index cards, and newspaper. Nothing electronic is allowed on that desk. This is where most of my work is born, and all over the desk are physical traces, scraps, and residue from my process. (Unlike a hard drive, paper doesn’t crash.) The digital desk has my laptop, my monitor, my scanner, and my drawing tablet. This is where I edit and publish my work.
“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” —Jessica Hische
One thing I’ve learned in my brief career: It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.
If there was a secret formula for getting known, I would share it with you. But there is only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people.
I always Cary a book, a pen, and a notepad, and I always enjoy my solitude and temporary captivity.
“Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has changed, and the changes everything.” –Jonah Leher
Travel makes the world look new, and when the woods looks new, our brains work harder.
The best way to vanquish your enemies on the Internet? Ignore them. The best way to make friends n the Internet? Say nice things about them.
If you ever find your the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.
“Modern art = I could that + Yeah but you didn’t.” -Craig Damrauer
“Be regular and orderly in you life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” —Gustave Flaubert
The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture. Saying no to takeout, $4 lattes, and the shiny new computer, when the old one still works fine.
Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time.
In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figured out what to leave out, so they could concentrate on what’s really important to them.