Steal Like An Artist by Justin Kleon

Taal is well known, critically acclaimed and a blockbuster of an Indian movie in Hindi language. It is a musical romantic drama. One of the interesting characters in the movie is played by the famous actor Anil Kapoor, in which he plays the role of Vikrant Kapoor who is a music producer/director. In one of the dialogues, he says something on the lines of ‘take a song made by some, remix it and sell it to make money’. I guess that is one way of stealing like an artist. But this book is much more than that.



Author : Justin Kleon
Originally Published : 2012
Publication : Workman Publishing
Pages : 261
Genre(s) : Non-Fiction, Self-Help

I loved the opening lines of Austin Kleon’s book ‘Steal like an artist’ when he says that when people give you advice, they are just talking to themselves in the past. How true!It is therefore not surprising that all advice is autobiographical.

So what does this have to do with stealing like an artist? Well, Kleon wrote this book because he wanted you and me to tap our creativity to its fullest. And going by the way humans manifest creativity, we seek inspiration and find it everywhere. Now you’d respond with a big guffaw. Yeah man, you’d say, everyone draws inspiration, but we call it stealing! Nah, says Kleon. Artists figure out what’s worth stealing and then move on to the next one. If it’s not worth stealing, it’s not worth creating in the first place.

Nothing comes from nowhere, postulates Kleon. I kind of agree when he says that. Researches should also know this, much better than me and you, for most research is built on the work of the past. The author compares this to human genealogy, where a person is born by borrowing genes from both his parents but the whole is more than the sum of the parts. And different too. You couldn’t agree more. He calls it the Genealogy of Ideas.

Does everyone do that?

Borrowing ideas? Yes, trust Kleon when he says that. The only difference is that normal people collect and hoard ideas indiscriminately while artists are picky and choosy about what they allow to influence them. Everyone does that. More so artists. Great men call it inspiration because they do not lift and pass it on as their work. That is plagiarism and we all know it’s tacky. Being inspired is natural, just like appreciating something good is.

Where do we steal from?

Oh! There are plenty of sources for you to find (steal!) inspiration from. Films, pictures, photos, paintings, music, trees, clouds, nature, water bodies, architecture, conversations, books, lectures, people, places, historical accounts, buildings, designs, jewels and what not.

Suggestions for stealing like an artist

  • Choose what you like. Ex. If you like the works of a particular artists, study him deeply. Understand his thought process. Let it get ingrained in your mind. Now allow yourself to be influenced by that artist’s way of working, don’t just copy him. Climb up the artist’s tree as far as you can and when you reach the top, create your own branch!
  • Be curious. Get yourself educated about that which you liked and appreciated. Use Google as much as possible.
  • Make notes. Always carry a notebook or some paper to note down that which you like. It could be some name, some movie, some musician or something else. If you don’t jot down when its time, you will forget it. Cut and paste things, pictures and articles for future use.
  • Start when you’re ready. Don’t wait for the right time.
  • Stay away from the ‘Imposter syndrome’ when people feel not worthy of the success once they do achieve it.
  • Remember, every great person started out by emulating someone greater whom he learned from. Musicians start by playing someone else’s music till they make their own. Artists copy works of art till they hone their skills. Write the book you want to read, advises the author.
  • Use your hands, the digits, not everything can be created on the digital! What a profound advice this is. I must share it with all the young folks who seem to have forgotten that the hands can do everything, even better, than what the machines and gadgets do.
  • Practice productive procrastination – whatever that means, I loved the idea. Work on parallel projects. Keep them on. Somewhere down the line, they intersect.
  • Don’t limit yourself by geography. The internet has made the whole world a common room. Connect, share, collaborate with others and see magic happen.

Key takeaways

  1. People unnecessarily get bogged down by the thought of creating something new when all the while the source of creativity is all around you
  2. Look around for inspiration and use it in your own works
  3. Getting inspired from people, ideas, places, works of art is different from plagiarism which is copying someone else’s work as your own.
  4. Get started. It all begins when you begin somewhere

Why I recommend this book

Because I loved the simplicity of the author’s message. It’s an artist’s manifesto, a ‘how-to’ book for everyone who wants to create something new but feels overwhelmed by the very idea of it all.

I loved the cute diagrams and the presentation of simple ideas and recommend that everyone save them

Do read this book to feel less guilty every time you see something wonderful and feel like doing similar. Remember, all great artists started out by practicing someone else’s work.

Better yet, get a hardcopy for your collection.

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