Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blog like an Artist

Maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you can’t quite make a living pursuing your dreams and you get a day job, thereby throwing away valuable hours that could be devoted to things you love.  Take heart ... a day job doesn’t have to be all bad.  “It puts you in the path of other human beings.  Learn from them, steal from them.”  That’s exactly what happened yesterday.  I crossed paths with Austin Kleon while while processing inter-library loans at the public library where I work part-time for health insurance. His book Steal like an Artist caught my eye.  I took it home, read it in one sitting (it's short) and now I’m stealing from it ... artistically of course.
Do you ever need a bit of inspiration to keep blogging, or motivation for the next post, or some validation?  I rarely lack ideas but there are times when I need moral support for pursuing my dreams, and I’m always grateful when I find it.  Thanks, Austin.
“Keep all your passions in your life.”  Austin Kleon.  Photo by RC Koeppel
I blog about science, but for me blogging is equally about creativity, and I’m happiest when I’m going back and forth between the quotidian and the fantastic as poet Seamus Heaney explained so well.  Austin’s book effectively encouraged me to keep trying, so I ordered two copies -- one for myself and one to circulate among like-minded friends.

But why steal?  This stealing isn’t plagiarism but rather influence.  When we create, we launch ourselves from the works and ideas of those we admire.  Study, write in their style, get into their heads, copy their work to see what all is there.
“Art is theft.”  Pablo Picasso
“Start copying what you love.  Copy copy copy copy.  At the end of the copy you will find yourself.”  Yohji Yamamoto (Kleon liberally “steals” advice from others, in the form of quotes).
So steal ideas ... lots of ideas.  “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination” (Jim Jarmusch).  And be ready -- stash stuff in that sketch book or scrapbook or swipe file that you carry with you as much as possible.

Stealing is a prominent theme but hardly the only one.  Nourishing creativity is another. Kleon's discussion of analog and digital tools was perhaps the most helpful thing I found in the book, at least for now:
“The computer is really good for editing your ideas ... but it’s not really good for generating ideas.  There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key.  The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us -- we start editing ideas before we have them.”
Ah -- so true!  He suggests having two work spaces -- an analog one where “work is born” and a digital one where work is executed.
And there’s the requisite advice for writer’s block, in Creativity is Subtraction.  It’s perhaps counter-intuitive that we can free ourselves by limiting our options, but I think this is sound advice.  “Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities” so choose a few constraints.  Guideposts and guardrails help us move forward more confidently.

Geography is no longer our master is especially relevant to blogging.  Like Austin, “I’m so glad I’m alive right now” (from PDF version).  The blogosphere provides a huge pool of potential readers for our masterpieces -- an audience for sharing the things that excite us.  But there are rules to follow and pitfalls to be avoided.  We especially need to Be Nice.
Austin's advice for plant bloggers.
The book ends with pragmatic advice, such as the day-job recommendation above and guidance on time-management and consistency.  I found some of this useful (have a schedule; write every day), while other things might work better for other personality types (calendars, logs).

I'm recommending this book because I found it so helpful, especially since motivation has been a bit scarce recently.  Now I’m ready to get back to that blanket of loess that covered eastern Washington before it was ravaged by Ice Age Mega-floods.  More soon.
Driving across the remains of the Palouse Prairie.

Kleon, Austin.  2012.  Steal like an artist:  10 things nobody told you about being creative.  $8.56 + postage at Amazon, $9.99 as an iBook.

Austin discusses creativity at TEDxKC:  Steal like an Artist (11:15).


  1. A lovely post, Hollis - sounds like the book was a great find. I enjoyed watching the video too.

    1. Thanks, Tim. Given that creativity can be so satisfying, it's nice to find useful advice :-)