So I just finished Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. It’s a super quick read. Mostly pictures and quotes. I think I read the whole thing in two sittings (maybe 2-3 hours in total). Kleon’s tone is pretty straightforward. There isn’t a lot of flowery writing or long stories. Mostly just graphics and maxims that serve to inspire you to practice your art . . . whatever that art may be.
In Kleon’s mind, the key to creativity isn’t coming up with something ‘new’ out of thin air but borrowing ideas from those you admire and making them your own. He points to a lot of musicians that do this. I’m sure there are a ton of writers who do the same. He writes a good deal about family trees and genealogy. Applied to art, it’s best practice to study artists you enjoy (substitute artist for musician, writer, tech mogul, whatever) and emulate them. It isn’t plagiarism or copying because invariably as you attempt to replicate their work, you will discover your own voice along the way. When I used to play drums, I used to think that I sounded a lot different than the other kids in my class. Part of that was because they had more experience than I did, but the other part of it was that I really did sound different. I spent all my time attempting learn every Led Zeppelin groove I could possibly master. I never ended up sounding like John Bonham, but I did learn a bunch of little tricks and embellishments that I could add to whatever grooves I could play and I think (hope) that people enjoyed that when I played for them.
As I got more experienced as a drummer, I started looking at other musicians and trying to learn my favorite aspects of their playing. I would ‘steal’ a drum fill from Neil Peart (although it never sounded as cool as he did) or subdivide triplets on the snare drum with ghost notes like Bernard Purdie (also do yourself a favor and just watch this video of Purdie teaching a shuffle groove. it’s hilarious). This is the type of thing that Kleon argues you can do no matter what art, industry, job, or position you’re in.
Now, I believe a lot of people are already doing this sort of thing without really knowing that is what is going on. Steal Like an Artist really just brings this idea to the forefront of your consciousness. So that you can choose who you study and what pieces you steal. So you can choose which of your goals is accomplished by this work. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from Kleon’s book though is:
“Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.”
Just go for it. Do a little bit of it everyday and as you do you’ll begin to see what things you want to ‘steal’ from others. And what things are uniquely yours. Of course there is a bunch of other stuff in this book but what I’ve outlined so far is the stuff that resonated with me the most. Pretty neat stuff really. Now I just have to figure out what my ‘art’ is and who I want to study. Oh and read the next book: Show Your Work.