How to Steal Like an Artist

I came across this post by Austin Kleon of things he wished he’d known as a young artist and college student. I think it can really speak to all of us creatives, regardless of age. You really should read the entire thing, but I’ve decided to write a little about some of my favorite nuggets from the piece.

The first point, “Steal like an artist,” talks about artists role is to not create new things necessarily (because there aren’t new things) but to collect what’s come before them and mash that stuff up in new ways.

Nothing is original, but our job is to bring together all the things we love to create something unique from our unique collection of sources.

I also really loved the point that hobbies and side projects are important. “By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.”

For me, this is really important advice, because what’s happened over the past few years as I’ve taken my own crafting more seriously, is that it moved away from being my hobby– nowadays, it’s a job. And I have to remember to take time to do other thing, things that aren’t for deadlines or profit or following the same patterns I use every other day. Painting bookshelves and drawing pictures are important, too.

I love this advice. The post even quotes one of my favorite ever Kurt Vonnegut-isms (and if you know me, you know it’s tough for me to pick a favorite Vonnegut quote). It’s from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and meant to be advice for a pair of newborns:

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

This is good advice for everybody, not just creatives, of course, but it can be tough when we’re putting our work out there for people to look at and judge and even criticize if they choose, and it can be hard to listen to that kind of feedback. But it’s always good advice to just be a nice person, because it’s really the only thing that’s going to get you ahead in the end.

(P.S. In case you’re interested, more great Vonnegut quotes are here.)

And my very favorite of all the advice, “Be Boring.” I love this because it can be so easy to get down on myself for missing out on the kind of gloriously boring evening and weekend hanging out that some people get to engage in. I’ve always longed for that sort of free time, but most of mine looks about the same: a to do list. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t, or that I don’t, let myself go out into the world and enjoy myself, but being creative is a job and a skill– you’ve gotta be disciplined about practicing your craft. From the post: “That whole romantic image of the bohemian artist doing drugs and running around and sleeping with everyone is played out… The thing is: art takes a lot of energy to make. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.”

So it’s not so bad that on a glorious sunny late-summer morning I’m here ruminating on the process of being a artist, not out at the beach like the other half of Chicago. I’m spending my energy on art. ; )

More from Austin Kleon here.

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