The Art of Theft and the Theft of Art

A Review and Hearty Recommendation of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like and Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.


The thing is, I was never an artist.  I was not artistic.  I was not creative.  Or, so, somewhere along the way, my own self perception was built to believe.  Maybe it’s because I can’t draw (and Lordy, I can’t draw!). But the other thing is, I am.  I’m imaginative and I am creative.  I have a million stories burning inside of me.  I look through the lens of my camera and light becomes my brush, and the people and things I photograph my canvas.  If I’m not creating, I feel empty.  So this year…2012…I’ve decided to dedicate to finding inspiration.

Thus enter Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist.  The first thing you must know is that I read this book in less than a day.  Yes, it’s succinct, it’s visual as well as verbal, but it’s also a book where really if I had no self control, I would have highlighted every last word. 

Austin’s premise is simply, there’s nothing original.  All art, and therefore all artists steal from each other.  There is of course a good way and a bad way of going about this, one that’s authentic and one that is not.  “Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artist collect selectively.”  The basic line is we are an amalgam of our influences.  Using the metaphor of genetics (and math!), Austin explains how 1+1=3.  Therefore, we should immerse ourselves in those who inspire us, learn who inspired them, and immerse ourselves in them as well.  Austin quoting Andre Gide, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said.  But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”  This reminds me of a common saying at Shimer College…there are no new questions.  Yet, we continue to ask them.

Sprinkled through-out the books are quotes from past and present minds (beginning with David Bowie, so you know I was smitten from the get-go), and Austin’s own artwork, my favorite of which is Open Road.  This reinforces Austin’s sentiment that learning from others is fundamental in growing ourselves.  Perhaps my favorite quote, as tweeted recently, “It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.”

I didn’t go to Art College, so I didn’t know this was the way it was supposed to work (maybe they don’t teach this in art college either, I wouldn’t know, I have a business degree).  The best thing this book gave me is permission to be in awe of those who create awe-inspiring works, but it helped take away the paralysis that comes when I see/read/hear something that blows my mind.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of the that small voice in the back of my head that says, but wait, you’re not an artist.  I do know that I’ll have a lot of fun discovering art while I try.

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