Book Review: Steal Like an Artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative by Austin Kleon published by Workman.
This is a neat little book that I recommend to all my students. I found it on a blog I follow and when I read it I thought yes this makes sense, everyone who has a creative pulse should read it. I believe it is particularly useful to those just starting out on their creative career especially if it involves being asked to do research, for example during an OCA course.
Steal Like an Artist is written by a young American writer, he opens his book with ‘all advice is autobiographical.’ What he is saying is that we learn from each other’s experiences and this book is what he learnt about creativity. It’s therefore not a wordy academic book; it feels fresher and less full of its own self-importance. Nonetheless I think it is full of important easily digestible information. Its main theme is that no one creates in a vacuum that all creative people learn from each other. Austin Kleon with the help of many quotes from fellow artists explores the way creative ideas develop and makes suggestions on how to give structure to developing your own creativity.
The title of the book is a bit miss leading I think, we all understand that stealing or copying someone else’s work is wrong. But this of course is not what the author means. His point is that no one is born with a style or a voice so we start by emulating those we admire. He illustrates this by explaining that The Beatles started out as a cover band, playing the music of their artistic hero’s. Only writing their own songs to be different from their contemporaries. In the music world this is an accepted way of developing your own style. No one batted an eyelid when Oasis claimed to be influenced by The Beatles and it could be heard in their music. This is what the author of Steal Like an Artist means. It’s about exploring what excites you in someone else’s work and adding it to your own. This goes for all creative disciplines; whether it is literature, music, sculpture, textiles, photography, etc. etc.
One of the tips the author shares is to start a swipe file, a collection of images or cuttings that you find inspiring. Something like Pinterest works well for this in the visual arts. An OCA student would use their learning log, making the collection more meaningful and useful by adding their own thoughts and comments. This record of your ideas improves your understanding of the work and informs your tutor/assessor what you are thinking. It is this thinking along with drawing and sample making that leads to new and exciting art.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Pablo Picasso