Book Summary:
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

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🗒 Note: My notes are a mix of key ideas and quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts.

  • The creative myth

There’s this myth that artists can create something completely new that has never been seen before. In reality, nothing is completely original. Great work is always based on many generations of artists that came before; their work also didn’t appear out of nowhere like the Big Bang.

“Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

  • Find your style by imitating your heroes

Start with imitating your heroes, and you’ll see that eventually, what you get is your own unique style. Nick Cave started by imitating his idols, and the Beatles started as a cover band. Your own style will appear when you fail to imitate your favorite artists.

“A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve.”

  • Find work that you like. Create an Artistic Family Tree:

Pick a creative person you admire

Learn their work, story, and process

Find three people who influenced this person and do the same with them

“Be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else—that's how you'll get ahead.”

  • Don’t abandon your hobbies

Creative work can suck you in and make you forget about the other stuff in your life. The first thing that people abandon is their hobbies. Don’t do it. Your hobbies, friends, and family will inspire you when you hit a creative block.

“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 German writer Goethe said, ‘We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.’”

  • Don’t rush into fame

Most creatives want to become famous or grow an audience immediately. Sure, it’s important. But let yourself enjoy the time while you are still anonymous. During that time, you can play, explore, and make mistakes.

“In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.”

  • Collect work that you like. But don’t be a hoarder.

Hoarders collect everything. Be selective about the stuff that you keep. Surround yourself with great work and talented people.

“Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”

  • Work with your hands

Don’t be tempted to always use the computer. Creativity often comes from sketching or simply writing in notebooks.

  • Move to a different place to get a new perspective

Kleon is from Texas, but he has lived in many other places like Italy and the UK. He says that living abroad had a great impact on his life and career.

“Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.”

  • Don’t waste your time replying to haters

There will always be negative idiots who have something bad to say.

  • Praise others

The more you praise others, the more praise you’ll receive.

  • Praise file

Save the most positive emails and comments you get. Whenever you feel down, pull up your praise file to remind yourself that others appreciate what you do.

  • Surround yourself with talented people

“If you ever find that you're the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.”

  • It’s ok to be lazy and procrastinate sometimes

“Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.”

🥸 “Google everything. I mean everything. Google your dreams, Google your problems. Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer, or you’ll come up with a better question.”

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