Carmen Sisson's Reviews > Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
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Jun 13, 12

Read on June 13, 2012

I'm undecided on this book. While I appreciate the premise — draw inspiration from people you admire and surround yourself with good role models — I'm uneasy with the "steal" concept.

The title grabs attention, but I think it overshadows the actual point, which is not to become a replica of someone else but to create more authentic work by creating work you love.

It's a bit overly simplistic, and definitely a short, fast read. For those who stand on the precipice, afraid to answer the call of creative spirit, it will serve as a "soft entry" to better books, like Anne Lammott's "Bird by Bird," Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones," and Julia Cameron's "The Sound of Paper."

For tired, disillusioned creatives, it may also reinvigorate. Those in the thick of creating will probably want something meatier.

Reading Kleon's book, I can see some of his influences, particularly a heavy nod toward bloggers-cum-authors like Seth Godin and Hugh MacLeod.

I also drink the Kool-Aid offered by Godin, MacLeod, Johnny B. Truant, Brian Clark of Copyblogger, Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity, and others. I like them all and find inspiration often in their words. But if you're young and impressionable, if you are on the edge of your art and not fully-formed, it's easy to miss the deeper points they make. It's easy to miss the parts where they say it's hard and often sucks and sometimes seems pointless and sometimes is a colossal failure.

Their passion for what they do is so charismatic that it's easy to get swept away, missing the part where they learned — through trial, error, mentors or schooling — how to market themselves effectively, how to manage money, how to lose the "romance" of being an artist and still find pleasure when the passion grows cool.

It's not enough to love what you do. Perhaps that sounds harsh, perhaps it's a cynical, jaded worldview. It's tempered by experience.

Loving your craft is fine if you want it to be a hobby. But if you want to keep a roof over your head with the work you produce, if you want to make a living at it until the end of your days, love will not keep you alive.

I worry for the writers, journalists and photographers who load up on humanities courses in college, the ones who believe suffering for your craft is noble — or eventually successful.

Please, please, creative types ... take a few business classes. Maintain a broad skill set. Don't tangle your identity up in your art or your profession, because if anything takes those away, you will be left rootless, drifting, and the road to recovery will be very, very hard.

I know I sound jaded and bitter. I'm not at all. I'm still passionate about what I do. But that passion is tempered by the pesky "reality thing" I always preferred to ignore. I never wanted to be bothered by the "boring" things like money, accounting, contracts, marketing. But these are the things that provide the income to keep DOING your art.

If you're going to steal like an artist, steal the business sense they bring to the table as well. I promise, you will never regret the time you spend learning the mechanics behind the career. With any luck, it will enable you until the end of your days to create wonderful things only you can bring to the world.

Starving artists living in garrets can produce great work. But smart artists will find the road so much easier and equally as fulfilling.

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