Stealing Like an Artist

  • July 25, 2012
  • INK Team

This post comes from INK alumna Jennifer Sisk.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to talk creativity, I recently attended a lunchtime session with Austin Kleon, author of the new book, How to Steal Like an Artist.

In his book, Kleon highlights that nothing is original – everything you think, develop or brainstorm has been done by someone else in some capacity. So instead of trying to fight that, he tells us to steal. To take inspiration and ideas from all around us and create something that’s unique to us. As Pablo Picasso said, “Art is theft.”

I left that meeting buzzing with creative energy and quickly devoured his book that afternoon (it’s a fun, quick read with lots of interesting visuals). Here are a few of the highlights.

Don’t wait until you know who are you to get started

I loved one of the visuals he used during his talk – an empty Word doc with devil horns on it. We’ve all been there!

Kleon’s point here is to stop trying to figure things out before you do them. Just jump in there and do it – something good will come out. He says, “Ask anyone doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up and do their thing. Every day.”

Stop sitting there scared of creating something crappy and just start getting it done. You’ll be surprised how things can work out.

Start copying

One of the ways to start doing: start copying.

We don’t just automatically know how to do things – we learn by emulating and copying. We copy our teachers, coaches and parents as kids to grow into our adult selves. The same applies in the professional world. Think back to your first job in your industry. Did you know what you were doing? No! But you figured it out by copying those above you. Find who you want to be like and copy them.

But, don’t just copy what they do, copy the “why” behind what they do. What’s the thinking? What’s the strategy? Figure that out and emulate it. Over time their styles will blend into your own.

One of my favorite ideas of his was to create an “inspiration family tree.” Take someone who inspires you, learn all about them and then figure out three people who inspire them and then learn all about those people. Keep following this chain up and up and soon you’ll have a wealth of inspiration to draw from.

There’s much more in his book and I highly encourage getting your hands on a copy.  It’s one of my favorite reads of the year.