I don't often make a sweeping blanket statement (or did I just make one?) but today I will. Every creative person, be they author, singer, songwriter, artist, performer, or simply a stay-at-home mother with a handful of fresh veggies in a kitchen and a wish for an exotic meal should read this book:
I had never heard of it until two days ago. I had never known about it till 12:30 or 1:00 this morning when I was hanging with my older brother in the kitchen and reading the introduction. Daniel had been listening to a podcast by one of his favorite bands and the lead singer raised this book to the camera and said, "Read it."
Daniel, standing in our kitchen in the dead of night while I scavenged around the leftover yellow cake with chocolate icing, said something similar. "You should read it. I'm here till tomorrow afternoon." And you know what? There's something imminent and approachable about a book like this that makes you want to obey that ubiquitous command. Daniel didn't buy Steal Like an Artist because Mike Donahey said to, but because he knew he needed it. In the same way, I didn't go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 7:30 when I could have slept in because Daniel told me to, but because I knew I wanted and needed to read this book.
I finished it in an hour.
It became a favorite in ten minutes.
And so I'm telling you, you need to read it. The thing that impressed me most about Austin Kleon's book was not the fact that it is for creative people or even the fact that it is full of cool little diagrams and witty humor. What endeared this book to me from the first chapter is the way he takes the small things in life seriously. Decisions are important. Little things upon little things do make up the big things.
"Just as your familial genealogy, you have a genealogy of ideas. 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 the you can pick the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life."
-Austin Kleon Steal Like an Artist
This book is like common sense bottled into a volume the size of a c.d. Time and time again I'd read a phrase and smile. It's not that Kleon has come up with anything out of the ordinary. But he has created one of those books that takes the grand realm of my vague thoughts and impressions and gives form to it. That's what we creatives are here for, you know: to gather the floaty bits and give 'em shape. Everyone has floaty bits. It's only the real artists who can collect and tame them for presentation to another person.
Kleon busts myths like "Write what you know", corrects wrong opinions like "imitation is flattery", and leaves you at the last page feeling like a combination of superhuman, Kinfolk magazine, and fair-trade coffee. And then, with a smirk you can hear across the miles and through the pages, he recommends not paying four bucks for a latte when you could be saving money. Like, "Oh, not only have I written a manifesto of creativity, but your coffee houses where you feel so validated as an artist are totally stealing your pocket money. Starving artist--ever heard of it? Yeah. Starbucks started the trend."
Okay, so maybe he wasn't that blunt, but I loved it. In this little powerhouse of paper, Austin Kleon addresses the need for a day job, the value of living a really, well, boring life so you can actually get work done, and the necessity of stepping away from the computer and working analog:
"Just watch someone at their computer. They're so still, so immobile. You don't need a scientific study (of which there are a few) to tell you that sitting in front of a computer all day is killing you, killing your work ...You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. Our nerves aren't a one-way street--our bodies can tell our brains as much as our bodies. You know that phrase, 'going through the motions;? That's what's so great about creative works: If we just start going through the motions, if we strum a guitar, or shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay, the motion kickstarts our brains into thinking."
-Austin Kleon Steal Like an Artist
I'm going to say it once more: "Read it." Let's see how long you can resist.