Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

This is a fantastic small read and it really helped solidify some of the floating ideas I had in my head that never really connected.  I originally had added Show Your Work to my reading list but then also came across this one that seemed really interesting, and was also a NYT best seller.

Austin Kleon is a writer and artist living in Austin, Texas.  He writes an excellent blog.  All around seems like a really cool dude.

This book encourages me to invite influences into my life.  What inspires me and makes me come alive, the heroes that I read about, learn from them, imitate them, and copy them.  Thus when I copy them, I make it my own, and have spun it as a new version.  I suffered from great imposter syndrome before, not believing that any of my ideas were mine, just ones that I’ve stolen from others.  Before I felt guilty, now I wear it proud.  I steal material, and share it as my own.

Stealing …

All artists start off from stealing.  Who do you know who’s done something significant that did not draw inspiration from someone else?  When I started playing guitar, did I start by writing my own music?  Of course not.  You start by practicing and playing your favourite musicians.  All artists have a muse, inspiration, are a part of a community, study the greats in their field.  I’m so encouraged by this cause now I can shamelessly say who my heroes are and take what they’ve laid before me and make it mine.

On the Myth of “Finding Yourself”

You don’t need to start after you “find your voice”.  What a myth!  Why do we feel like we need to make it on our own.  There is no such thing as “original”, all art is a riff off of another art, any worthy art anyways. It is in the process of your artistry, that you begin to find yourself.  So riff, steal, transform, and as you follow the path, you inevitably find yourself, your sweet spot, and can honour those who went before you by pointing towards them for your source of inspiration.

Mentors and Influences

Much has been said about having mentors in your life. I’ve had very few of these relationships, feeling like I’m left behind and that I was doomed for failure because I had no one showing me the way.  However, mentors are freely available.  They leave their words to you in their books, in their music, in their art. I’ve realized, I don’t not have mentors, I’m being mentored by a team of world class people, that I got to draft on my team.  There’s no salary cap for this sport!


It also affirmed that hobbies and side projects are not just for fun, but generate real value.  Hobbies is what you give time to, but nourishes your soul, and in the process you are creating, practicing, working your craft.  It’s the work that you wished you could do all day everyday, but don’t get to because of responsibilities, regular job, etc.  But that is perfectly OK.  When you do things for money, joy is stolen, motivation gets fuzzy, deadlines begin to loom and put pressure.  Not so with hobbies, you aren’t doing it for the financial gain of others, you do it for the pure satisfaction of yourself, and your audience.  You don’t want the pressure of “if I screw this up, I won’t be able to pay the bills.”  You want to do what you enjoy, free of external motivations, just an expression of what’s inside.

“If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. — Wilson Mizner

  • What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere.  All creative work builds on what came before.  Nothing is completely original.
  • “Everything that needs to be said has already been said.  But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” – Andre Gide
  • You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.  You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.  You are the sum of your influences
  • The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice.  You can learn whatever you want from them.  They left their lesson plans in their work.
  • It’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.  You’re ready.  Start making stuff.
  • In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes.
  • “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” — Jessica Hische
  • “Avoiding work is the best way to focus my mind.” — Maira Kalman
  • A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy.  A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.  No pressure, no plans.  It’s regenerative.  It’s like church.
  • Do good work and share it with people.
  • People love it when you give your secrets away

One Reply to “Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon”

  1. Nice short write up Marc! Quite encouraging knowing that we do not need to start from scratch as great resources are in the grasp of our hands and great people have left clues for us to succeed. Thanks for this! – Vince

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