Steal Like an Artist | Austin Kleon

Summary of: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
By: Austin Kleon


In the age of imitation and inspiration, ‘Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative’ by Austin Kleon dives into the art of borrowing and building upon existing creations to produce unique works of your own. The book suggests that true originality is a myth, and the path to great art lies in embracing influences, emulating your heroes, and utilizing your hobbies and side projects. Summary readers can expect to explore the value of obscurity, the benefits of designing an ideal workspace, the necessity of sharing work online, and the significant yet complex relationship between creativity and criticism.

The Myth of Originality

The notion that great art must be original is a myth. All artists take ideas from others and build upon them to produce their art. Surrounding oneself with the right kind of art and creating an artistic family tree can lead to incredible inspiration and ideas for creating unique work.

Emulate Your Heroes

The path to creative success involves imitation and finding your niche.

Truly original art doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean you should copy someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. Instead, the best way to start is by imitating your heroes. By finding someone whose work and lifestyle you admire, you can learn what motivated them to create their art. Musicians such as Nick Cave started out by imitating their idols, and you can too. As you copy your idols, you will gradually realize that you’re different from them. These differences or “weaknesses” point to your unique style or niche, which is essential to creating art that stands out. Emulating your heroes helps you discover your strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to develop your career on your terms. Take Conan O’Brien, for example. He initially wanted to be like David Letterman but couldn’t quite copy him accurately. His differences made him stand out, leading to a successful career as a comedian and talk show host. In summary, imitation and finding your niche are vital steps in the journey towards creative success.

The Importance of Hobbies for Artists

As an artist, it may be tempting to focus solely on your work, but this can hinder your productivity and happiness. Creativity often comes when you let your mind wander, so having hobbies and side projects can provide an outlet and create mental space for innovation. Without them, creative blocks can lead to frustration and subpar work. Maintaining hobbies is also essential for overall well-being and happiness. The author learned this firsthand when he stopped playing guitar to focus on art and felt empty until he reintroduced hobbies for leisure.

The Power of Obscurity

Many aspiring artists dream of fame and try to achieve it as soon as possible. However, obscurity can be advantageous early on. It provides the freedom to experiment and make mistakes without being scrutinized. Sharing your work with others on the internet is the best way to eventually get noticed. It’s crucial to demonstrate your passion and allow viewers to connect with you. Creating a blog or website, or posting your work on an online platform, is an essential part of the journey as an artist. By inviting others to share your passion and wonder, you’ll gain a following and cultivate a deeper connection with your audience. Therefore, don’t rush towards fame, but rather embrace obscurity in the beginning and develop your skills.

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