steal like an artist summary

Book Summary: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

The Book in Three Sentences

In this Steal Like An Artist summary, you’ll learn ten principles for a more creative life. The book suggests that nothing is original, so you should embrace your influences to forge your own path. An essential read for the digital era, this book will help you start right away, have fun, and share your creations with others.

Steal Like an Artist Summary

All advice is biographical. This is the author’s attempt to talk about himself in the past.

Steal Like an Artist

All artists steal, but first, they have to figure out what’s worth stealing. Nothing is original. Every new idea is a remix of previous ideas. Artists are collectors, not hoarders. You should only collect things you love. You’re only as good as the things you surround yourself with. Study everything there’s to study about an artist. Find three people that the artist loved and study everything about them too. Repeat this process as much as you can. School and education are different things. It doesn’t matter if you’re in school or not, you can always get an education. To do so, study, read voraciously, look things up, and Google everything. Carry a pen and notebook wherever you go. Copy, record, jot down, transcribe, and doodle.

Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started

We figure out who we are by doing our work. Although you might be scared to start, you’re ready now. The famous mantra “fake it ‘til you make it” means:

  1. Pretend something you’re not until you are.
  2. Pretend to make something until you do.

You’re not born with a style, you learn that by copying your heroes. Copy (reverse-engineer) and don’t plagiarize (pass someone else’s work as your own). Don’t steal someone else’s style. Steal the thinking behind the style. Don’t copy the surface, try and see where they’re coming from. First, you imitate and then you emulate. By imitating, you’re copying and by emulating, what you’re doing becomes its own thing. Flatter your heroes by adding something to the world only you can.

Write the Book You Want to Read

Write what you like, not what you know.

Use Your Hands

Using devices tricks us into believing that we’re always making things. Figure out a way to bring your body into your work, so move around when possible. Analog tools can be fun too. Work should feel like play. Consider having two setups or desks in your office: one analog where no electronics are allowed and one digital.

Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important

The side projects are the ones that take off. It’s good to have more than one so that you can jump from one to the next. This is productive procrastination. Keep all the passions you have. Don’t try to make money off of them. Just do them because they make you happy.

The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It with People

Don’t care about getting attention, you only want attention after doing good work, so experiment and do things for fun. This is the secret formula: do good work and share it with people. For the first part, there are no shortcuts. Do it every day, even though you’re going to be bad for a while. For the second part, use the internet. Figure out how to use different platforms. Post bits and pieces of your work.

Geography Is No Longer Our Master

Even if you’re alone and captive, you can use the internet to connect with others. When this becomes too much, you can always turn your devices off, read a book, write, and enjoy your solitude and captivity again. Make things uncomfortable for you, so leave home at least once. Travel somewhere, it’ll change your life.

Be Nice (The World Is a Small Town)

Make friends, and ignore enemies. This goes for real life too, but especially for the internet. Be kind. Follow the most talented people. Get angry, but channel it into your own work. Write fan letters, but don’t wait for a response. Good work seems effortless. Often, you fail to see the work that went into it. You can be misunderstood and even ignored, but you shouldn’t care. Delete nasty emails, but keep the uplifting ones in a praise folder for the dark days when you want to quit.

Be Boring (It’s the Only Way to Get Work Done)

Take care of yourself. Learn about money. Save money. Get a cheap education. Don’t buy things you don’t need. Keep your day job because it gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine. Keeping in routine is better than having free time. Work every day, no matter what happens. Get a calendar. Writing a page a day seems unimpressive, but over the course of a year, you’ll have enough pages to fill a book. A calendar helps you plan, have goals, and it keeps you on track. Have a logbook, a diary, or a journal, this is where you list what you do every day. This is also a good way to remember small, special moments you might forget otherwise. Marry well. Who you choose as a partner is life-changing.

Creativity Is Substraction

To conclude this book summary of Steal Like an Artist, remember that what you leave out is as important as what you include. Create more by making up constraints. Limitation = freedom.

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