Artistic Theft (More or Less)

One of the books I read in 2020, Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, is on the list of books some of my blog readers have requested a review of, so here goes!

This little coffee table book — or perhaps “end table book” is a better term, because it is short enough to read and digest in one sitting — makes a lovely gift for someone who is beginning on their creative life journey, or for someone who has been trending on the artistic side for some time but maybe has fallen into a slump, or otherwise just needs a little push to take things to their next level. In fact, this is how Kleon’s book came to me: as a gift from a very thoughtful friend.

One of the things I enjoyed about Steal Like An Artist was its unintimidating format. Rather than being a textbook or even a workbook with exercises, it presents its simple but effective wisdom in a highly digestible and visually stimulating list of truths to consider.

Here is part of the book’s description:

“Nothing is original, so embrace influence, school yourself through the work of others, remix and reimagine to discover your own path. Follow interests wherever they take you—what feels like a hobby may turn into your life’s work. Forget the old cliché about writing what you know: Instead, write the book you want to read, make the movie you want to watch.
And finally, stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring in the everyday world so that you have the space to be wild and daring in your imagination and your work.”

This blurb captures some of the essence of the book fairly well. For me, even though I can’t say I was particularly surprised by any of Kleon’s advice, there were definitely some things in there that I needed reminding of. One thing that I particularly have trouble with sometimes is preventing the world from being too much with me, to the point that it stifles my ability to do mentally challenging creative work — such as, for example, writing a novel — no matter how much I enjoy doing that artistic activity. This book reminded me that sometimes the world being too much with me can be turned to my artistic advantage.

Would I recommend this book? Sure, I would. Not perhaps for the successful working artist on a productive streak, but most definitely for the person who is thinking about jumping into the bracing waters of making art, or for the artist who needs to get their mojo back and could use a little reminder that yes, they really can do this thing.

2 thoughts on “Artistic Theft (More or Less)

  1. I’m so glad you liked this one! His insights about turning limits into inspiration were the most A-ha!-inducing for me.

    I’d like to know more about what you mean re: your ability to turn the overwhelming nature of the world into an advantage (I could definitely learn some of that myself).

    His follow-up guides are just as awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to know, thank you! I’m not familiar with his other work but very interested in what you think about turning limits into inspiration, if you’d like to elaborate on that. 🙂

      As for turning world-overwhelm into an advantage: the way I understood it was that he’s giving artists license to steal from the world around them. Take some of that stuff as inspiration and mold it into your own thing. There’s an old adage: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” I’ve never really bought into that much because I’m really not interested in plagiarism in all its many forms. 😉 But I do think that taking inspiration and creating something NEW is wonderful. I don’t mind fanfic, as you can imagine, and in fact one of the genres I read widely in and also write in (novel-wise) is reimagined fairy tales.

      One novel I’m currently shopping around takes the loose narrative framework of “The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes” and a couple of iconic images from “Snow White” and then creates an entirely new story from it. Its comp titles are CIRCE meets A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, if that gives you any idea.


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