STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST PT2

We really hope you enjoyed and learnt something from the first five lessons we shared from the book ‘Steal like an artist’. Today, we are sharing five more interesting lessons. Enjoy!

LESSON NO. 6

SCHOOL YOURSELF.


School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap. Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education. You have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else—that’s how you’ll get ahead. Google everything. I mean everything. Google your dreams, Google your problems. Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question. Always read. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to. Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Filmmaker John Waters has said,

 

“Nothing is more important than an unread library.”

Don’t worry about doing research. Just search.

 

“Whether I went to school or not, I would always study.”

—RZA

 

LESSON No. 7

SAVE YOUR THEFTS FOR LATER.


Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations. Copy your favorite passages out of books. Record overheard conversations. Doodle when you’re on the phone. Go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure you always have paper on you. Artist David Hockney had all the inside pockets of his suit jackets tailored to fit a sketchbook. The musician Arthur Russell liked to wear shirts with two front pockets so he could fill them with scraps of score sheets.

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. See something worth stealing? Put it in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file. Newspaper reporters call this a “morgue file”—I like that name even better. Your morgue file is where you keep the dead things that you’ll later reanimate in your work.

 

“It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.”

—Mark Twain

 

LESSON No. 8

MAKE THINGS, KNOW THYSELF.

If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started “being creative,” well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.




You’re ready. Start making stuff.

You might be scared to start. That’s natural. There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called “impostor syndrome.” The clinical definition is a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It means that you feel like a phony, like you’re just winging it, that you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing. Guess what: None of us do. 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.


Have you ever heard of dramaturgy? It’s a fancy term for something William Shakespeare spelled out in his play

As you like it about 400 years ago:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts.

Another way to say this? Fake it ’til you make it.

I love this phrase. There are two ways to read it:

 

1. Pretend to be something you’re not until you are—fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want them to; or

2. Pretend to be making something until you actually make something.

I love both readings—you have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and you have to start doing the work you want to be doing.

I also love the book Just Kids by the musician Patti Smith. It’s a story about how two friends who wanted to be artists moved to New York. You know how they learned to be artists?

 

“You start out as a phony and become real.”

—Glenn O’Brien

 

 

LESSON N0. 9

 

START COPYING

 


“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.”

—Yohji Yamamoto

 

Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.

We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism—plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.

 

We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales.

Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces. Remember: Even The Beatles started as a cover band. Paul McCartney has said, “I emulated Buddy

Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis. We all did.” McCartney and his partner John Lennon became one of the greatest song writing teams in history, but as McCartney recalls, they only started writing their own songs “as a way to avoid other bands being able to play our set.” As Salvador Dalí said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second, you have to figure out what to copy. Who to copy is easy. You copy your heroes—the people you love, the people you’re inspired by, the people you want to be. The songwriter Nick Lowe says, “You start out by rewriting your hero’s catalog.” And you don’t just steal from one of your heroes, you steal from all of them. The writer Wilson Mizner said if you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. I once heard the cartoonist Gary Panter say, “If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original!”

What to copy is a little bit trickier. Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.

The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want—to internalize their way of looking at the world. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.

 

A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve.

So: Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work.

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.

 

“I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them

proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in

the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.”

—Kobe Bryant


LESSON No. 10




The movie Jurassic Park came out on my tenth birthday. I loved it. The minute I left the theatre, I was dying for a sequel, so I sat down the next day at our old PC and typed one out. In my treatment, the son of the game warden eaten by Velociraptors goes back to the island with the granddaughter of the guy who built the park. One of them wants to destroy the rest of the park, the other wants to save it. Of course, they fall in love and adventures ensue.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was writing what we now call fan fiction—fictional stories based on characters that already exist. Ten-year-old me saved the story to the hard drive. A few years later, Jurassic Park II finally came out. And it sucked. The sequel always sucks compared to the sequel in our heads.

The question every young writer at some point asks is: “What should I write?” And the standard answer is, “Write what you know.” This advice always leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting happens.

 

“My interest in making music has been to create something that does not exist that I

would like to listen to. I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened, by putting

together things that suggested a new thing which did not yet exist.”

—Brian Eno

 

We make art because we like art. We’re drawn to certain kinds of work because we’re inspired by people doing that work. All fiction, in fact, is fan fiction.

The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. The same principle applies to your life and your career:

Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?” Bradford Cox, a member of the band Deerhunter, says that when he was a kid he didn’t have the Internet, so he had to wait until the official release day to hear his favorite band’s new album. He had a game he would play: He would sit down and record a “fake” version of what he wanted the new album to sound like. Then, when the album came out, he would compare the songs he’d written with the songs on the real album. And what do you know, many of these songs eventually became Deerhunter songs.

When we love a piece of work, we’re desperate for more. We crave sequels. Why not channel that desire into something productive?

Think about your favorite work and your creative heroes. What did they miss? What didn’t they make? What could’ve been made better? If they were still alive, what would they be making today? If all your favorite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew?


Go make that stuff.



The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music

you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.


Oh we aren't done yet. We are carefully breaking it down, lesson after lesson so you can appreciate the message Austin Kleon is passing across. Keep an eye out for the concluding part and remember to share with a friend or two.