Creativity in the digital age

"Steal like an Artist" book review

There are many ideas out there about ways to foster your creativity and come up with good ideas, but Austin Kleon surely has a special take on it in his book “Steal like an artist“.

I’ve had this book in my Kindle for over a year, and I finally got to it the other day, it contains ten things Kleon wished he’d heard as a young creator.

Here are the tips that I have found particularly useful and will start implement in my creative work.

Steal Like an Artist

Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.” —Jim Jarmusch

The opening of the book is an articulate manifesto for this era of remix explaining how a good artist understands that nothing comes from absolutely nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is entirely original.

Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from and be influenced by.

Make things, Know Thyself

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Salvador Dalí

Kleon makes a point of how we need to start doing stuff to discover what your potential is and what you can bring to this world. It takes commitment to make things. Great artists don’t know where the good stuff comes from, they just show up to do their thing. Every day.

You might be afraid to do things because you lack the experience or the style, but nobody is born with those. 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.

The most important thing to understand about this philosophy is that copying does not mean 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.

Don’t write what you know, write what you like

“My interest in making music has been to create something that does not exist that I would like to listen to.” —Brian Eno

Klein’s suggestion on finding the right subject for your art is to stop doing only what you know. Creativity and art come out of curiosity and interest – so to come up with something original you need to LOVE doing it.

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.

Digital Desk & Analog Desk

“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops.” —John Cleese

Get off your computer and make things with your hands as our ancestors did for hundreds of thousands of years to come up with pretty creative solutions to problems.

Sitting still in front of you computer all day is killing you, and killing your work. We need to move and feel like we’re making something with our bodies, not just with our heads.

Computers are really good for editing your ideas and getting them ready for publishing, but not for generating ideas.

Klein suggests to have two desks in the office, a digital desk with all of your tech stuff, and an analogical desk full of paper, markers, pencils, tape glue and anything else that strikes your fancy. (Which I’m personally TOTALLY going to do in our next office!)

Give your Secrets Away

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” —Howard Aiken

Doing good work is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts; you need to make stuff every day and you are probably going to suck for a while. You’ll fail but get better.

When you find a golden nugget share it with the world. People love it when you give your secrets away, don’t be afraid of sharing them with the world. If you’re smart about it, people will reward you by buying the things you’re selling.

Creativity is subtraction

“Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want— that just kills creativity.” —Jack White

I feel this chapter particularly close to my heart because at MENO subtraction is our secret sauce, we love simplifying and removing things to get to the heart of a brand or product.

Klein suggests just this by reminding us that creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.

So leave more things out and see how your creativity flourishes.





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