Book Highlights for:
Steal Like An Artist
10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

By Austin Kleon
[Buy on Amazon]
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Selected Highlights (paraphrased from the book unless in quotation marks):

  • “Art is theft.” Pablo Picasso.

1) Steal like an artist:

  • First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing.
  • …stop worrying about what’s “good” and what’s “bad” – there’s only stuff worth stealing, and stuff that’s not worth stealing.
  • “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff I can steal from.” David Bowie
  • Nothing is original.
  • Every new idea is just a mash up or a remix of one or more previous ideas.
  • Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.
  • Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.
  • “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.” Jim Jarmusch [James R. "Jim" Jarmusch is an American independent film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor and composer. Jarmusch has been a major proponent of independent cinema, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s.]
  • Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff. I hang pictures of my favorite artists in my studio.
  • School yourself. School is one thing. Education is another.
  • Save your thefts for later.
  • “It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.” Mark Twain

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

  • Make things, know thyself.
  • You’re ready. Start making stuff.
  • Fake it ‘til you make it.
  • 1) Pretend to be something you’re not until you are – fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want them to; or 2) Pretend to be making something until you actually make something.
  • Start copying.
  • “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.” Yohji Yamamoto [Yamamoto is a Japanese fashion designer based in Tokyo and Paris. He is among the master tailors whose work is thought to be of genius and has been described as probably the only designer you could name who has 60-year-olds who think he's incredible and 17-year-olds who think he's way cool. His more prestigious awards for his contributions to fashion include the Japanese Medal of Honor, the Ordre national du Mérite, the Royal Designer for Industry and the Master of Design award by Fashion Group International.]
  • The human hand is incapable of making a perfect copy.
  • Remember: Even The Beatles started as a cover band.
  • “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Salvador Dali
  • Imitation is not flattery. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking though into your own thing.
  • Good Theft: Honor, study, steal from many, credit, transform, remix.
  • Bad Theft: Degrade, skim, steal from one, plagiarize, imitate, rip off.
  • “I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.” Kobe Bryant, basketball player.

3) Write the book you want to read:

  • The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like.
  • The same principal applies to your life and your career: Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?”
  • Go make that stuff. The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.

4) Use your hands:

  • “We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops.” John Cleese
  • Step away from the screen…While I love my computer, I think computers have robbed us of the feeling that we’re just typing keys and clicking mouse buttons.
  • Work that only comes from the head isn’t any good.
  • The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not really good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us – we start editing ideas before we have them.
  • Art that only comes from the head isn’t any good.

5) Side projects and hobbies are important:

  • “The work that you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” Jessica Hische [“Jessica Hische is a letterer, illustrator, and crazy cat lady known for her silly side projects and occasional foul mouth.”
  • I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them.
  • Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.
  • If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life.
  • It’s so important to have a hobby. A hobby is something creative that’s just for you.
  • “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” Steve Jobs

6) The Secret: Do good work and share it with people:

  • Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.
  • You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about.
  • “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Howard Aiken [Howard Hathaway Aiken (March 8, 1900 – March 14, 1973) was a pioneer in computing, being the original conceptual designer behind IBM's Harvard Mark I computer. Aiken studied at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and later obtained his PhD in physics at Harvard University in 1939.]

7) Geography is no longer our master:

  • Build your own world.
  • You don’t have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in.
  • I always carry a book, a pen, and a notepad, and I always enjoy my solitude and temporary captivity.
  • It helps to live around interesting people, and not necessarily people who do what you do.

8) Be nice. The world is a small town:

  • Make friends, ignore enemies.
  • “There‘s only one rule I know of: You’ve got to be kind.” Kurt Vonnegut
  • Stand next to the talent.
  • You will need: Curiosity, Kindness, Stamina, A willingness to look stupid.
  • If you ever find that you’re the most talented person the room, you need to find another room.
  • Quit picking fights and go make something.
  • Write fan letters.
  • Validation is for parking.
  • Keep a praise file. Yes, validation is for parking, but it’s still a tremendous boost when people say nice things about our work.

9) Be boring. It’s the only way to get work done:

  • “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Gustave Flaubert [French writer who is counted among the greatest novelists in Western literature. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), for his Correspondence, and for his scrupulous devotion to his art and style.]
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Stay out of debt.
  • Keep your day job.
  • Get yourself a calendar.
  • Keep a logbook.
  • Marry well.

10) Creativity is subtraction:

  • Choose what to leave out.
  • The right constraints can lead to your very best work.
Henry’s Comments: I think creativity requires courage. It requires the courage to express yourself, and to subject that personal expression to rejection and ridicule. Creativity comes from the same place in us as love, sadness and joy. You can say it comes from the “child” in us, if only because as a child we typically have not yet faced ridicule and rejection from those we love and respect. As a child we are usually unafraid to express ourselves. As we grow, we learn to hide that expression to avoid the pain of rejection. To be truly originally creative you can’t worry too much, if at all, about what others think.