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Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon - Book Summary

Haikal Kushahrin
Haikal Kushahrin
5 min read
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon - Book Summary

Another book from Austin Kleon on 10 things nobody told you about being creative. It’s not only for artists, but for anyone looking to inject some creativity into their life and work. (read: all of us)

My Highlights

  • “Art is theft.” —Pablo Picasso
  • “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” —T. S. Eliot
  • It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.
  • How does an artist look at the world? First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing.
  • when people call something “original,” nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.
  • 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.”
  • “What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” —William Ralph Inge
  • Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.
  • You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.
  • The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.
  • Marcel Duchamp said, “I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.” This is actually a pretty good method for studying—if you try to devour the history of your discipline all at once, you’ll choke.
  • Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education.
  • Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations.
  • Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like—a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. It can be digital or analog—it doesn’t matter what form it takes, as long as it works. You can keep a scrapbook and cut and paste things into it, or you can just take pictures of things with your camera phone.
  • Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.
  • Fake it ’til you make it.
  • “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” —Yohji Yamamoto
  • if you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research.
  • What to copy is a little bit trickier. Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style.
  • In the end, merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add.
  • The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like.
  • The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not really good for generating ideas.
  • “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” —Jessica Hische
  • Practice productive procrastination.
  • If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life.
  • Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. Use it.
  • If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people. It’s a two-step process. Step one, “do good work,” is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Know you’re going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better. Step two, “share it with people,” was really hard up until about ten years ago or so. Now, it’s very simple: “Put your stuff on the Internet.”
  • Think about what you have to share that could be of some value to people. Share a handy tip you’ve discovered while working. Or a link to an interesting article. Mention a good book you’re reading.
  • At some point, when you can do it, you have to leave home. You can always come back, but you have to leave at least once.
  • The best way to make friends on the Internet? Say nice things about them.
  • “Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful.”
  • If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.
  • “Quit picking fights on Twitter and go make something!”
  • I recommend public fan letters.
  • get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored—the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.
  • Instead of keeping a rejection file, keep a praise file.
  • “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” —Gustave Flaubert
  • Neil Young sang, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” I say it’s better to burn slow and see your grandkids.
  • Make yourself a budget. Live within your means.
  • The truth is that even if you’re lucky enough to make a living off doing what you truly love, it will probably take you a while to get to that point. Until then, you’ll need a day job.
  • Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time.
  • Get a calendar. Fill the boxes. Don’t break the chain.
  • Just as you need a chart of future events, you also need a chart of past events. A logbook isn’t necessarily a diary or a journal, it’s just a little book in which you list the things you do every day.
  • “If you ask yourself ‘What’s the best thing that happened today?’ it actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection that pulls up from the recent past things to write about that you wouldn’t otherwise think about.
  • Who you marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make. And “marry well” doesn’t just mean your life partner—it also means who you do business with, who you befriend, who you choose to be around.
  • In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them.
  • The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself.


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