A couple weeks ago, a photo popped up in a friend’s newsfeed. He had snapped a pic of a book he had bought, called “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon. Intrigued by the title, I jumped over to Amazon, read a little about it, and dropped it in my cart.
Prior to “Steal Like An Artist”, Austin published “Newspaper Blackout”, a compilation of poems he created by taking newspaper articles and redacting words with a black marker. The remaining text revealed itself as free-form poetry. These are great examples of his core philosophy – taking something we know, and remixing it into something new.
Austin characterizes himself as a “writer who draws” and that’s evident in “Steal Like An Artist”. It’s packed with keen observations and written in a crisp, modern vernacular with drawings and pictures (illustrating his points) peppered throughout. He begins with the premise that “nothing is original”. What he means is that artists who are pushing their art into the world are inherently a collection of their influences. He states, “All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.” If you believe this (and I do), it takes an enormous amount of pressure off of your creative soul to create something “NEW”. You can let go of that and concentrate instead on creating something “YOU”.
He then follows with the 10 things you can do to unlock creativity. I won’t go into details because I’d really love for you to read the book. It’s a super fast read (cover to cover in about an hour) and GREAT inspiration.
I will, however, talk about #10, “Creativity is subtraction”, because it’s something I deeply believe, which is, “Nothing is more paralyzing than the age of limitless possibilities”. In this brief chapter, Austin writes about placing constraints on yourself, even though that seems counter-intuitive to the creative process. He challenges his readers to paint a painting with only one color or write a song on your lunch break. These are small but worthwhile exercises that are meant to challenge you into doing something. The second part #10 is embodied in this statement, “It’s often what an artist chooses to leave out that makes art interesting”. That’s a statement I agree with whole-heartedly. I have found that my best work emerges when I start editing, ruthlessly, to get to the core of a photograph or a design.
Check out the book, you’ll be glad you did. You can learn more about Austin at his website by clicking here.