“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying. ” – Austin Kleon
I remember being in art school and worrying about my style and being jealous of people who had found their style. I frequently heard that, “your style comes naturally over time. It can’t be forced”. This may be true, but no one explained how that natural process worked. This lead to wasting a lot of time and money on trying to fit in with the students I thought were cool… don’t be like me.
Steal Like an Artist is a book made for my friends who don’t read books like I do. Austin Kleon gives us a book filled with great advice that is straight to the point and practical. It is a quick read but very informative. Kleon’s book is made for artists who get bored or are intimidated by thick books that are filled with 9-point font words.
Austin challenges the concept of uniqueness by saying that everything is a copy and that every idea is derived from someone else’s creation/invention/genius. We are not meant to see this as something bad but something we can use to our advantage. He tells us to choose our influences wisely and to be purposeful about it. We find our style and our voice first by studying other people’s work and incorporating what we like with our own work. Don’t worry about being a copy of another artist… because you can’t even if you tried. It wouldn’t work.
“It’s our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” -Conan O’Brian
Kleon spends a relatively small amount of the book on “stealing”. By chapter 3, he leaves the premise of the book and gives us a mixed bag of practical advice. Some of the advice is common sense. For example not getting into fights online. Other advice is about more personal things that have benefited him; such as keeping a file of good things and compliments people send your way to boost your spirits on a bad day. (I actually have a wall in my studio like that myself). But what I saw as most useful was his perspective on day jobs and trying to balance their pros and cons for your benefit.
This book is a great book for young artists in school or who are starting out their careers. However, everyone can get something from it. It is a quick and easy read but it is full of things that you can start doing today to better yourself as a creative person.