Book review: Steal Like an Artist

I was in a pretty little book store in Point Reyes, California and I found some interesting books for artists. I chose to buy “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. Mostly because it was cheaper than the other one I was considering.

But I had heard of the book before, and was interested. I had grown up with the idea of being “original” branded into my young mind. One thing I never wanted to be called was a “copy cat”. And I am sure I am not the only one. I have read quite a few internets rants about how one movie was similar to some other movie.

Using the word “Steal” in the title is provocative, intentionally I’m sure. This book is mostly about finding inspiration. Kleon basically recommends gathering multiple influences and synthesizing your own interpretations. It’s really true. This entire blog of mine is about all those people who produce material that makes me laugh.

Kleon supports his idea that artists can take from other artists with many excellent quotes. I particularly liked this one from Mark Twain:

It is better to take something that does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.

I have said as much about jokes. Should a joke be copyrighted, or shared person to person to travel as far as it can go?

Kleon is careful to distinguish between good stealing and bad stealing. Good stealing recognizes and honors multiple sources. Bad stealing is a reproduction to which you contribute nothing.


The subtitle of the book is “10 things nobody told you about being creative”. My only criticism is that in reaching the number 10, it drifts into some generic advice such as “be nice” or reminding us that the internet has removed geographical restrictions to our circle of friends.

One item that did resonate with me was this line: In the beginning obscurity is good. When an artist becomes successful, then there are way more expectations on him or her. Think of the abuse heaped on George Lucas, or a rock star driven to suicide by a record company. Being obscure is a form of freedom to do just what pleases you.

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