3 Lessons in Creativity from “Steal Like An Artist”

This week I’ve been rereading “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon. It’s based on a talk Kleon gave to college students in upstate New York and was such a hit that he compiled his great bite-sized advice into a complete book.

I was drawn to this one not only because of its catchy title, but because it’s also bursting with memorable illustrations by the author/artist himself. Best of all, it’s the perfect size to keep around for moments when you need last-minute inspiration or life-advice. (My copy has recently started to fall apart.) In short, it’s filled with great advice for those who want to build a more interesting and imaginative life but struggle from time to time with injecting more creativity into their life and work.

I think we’ve all been there. Whether it’s a creative slump, writer’s block or debilitating perfectionism that’s impeding your progress, the fear of being unoriginal can stop creative thinking in its tracks. So how can you combat the feelings of inadequacy that seem to coincide with creative work? Kleon offers a few great suggestions.

1. Remember, nothing is completely original

As Kleon explains, we must realize that creativity doesn’t always come from a place of originality. All artists must build off the work that came before. Every new idea is a mashup of previous great ideas.

“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere,” Kleon writes. “All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”

It’s a freeing feeling to know that nothing is completely original. Once you accept this, the pressure of originality and perfectionism can no longer hold you back from pursuing a creative life.

2. Find out what inspires you—then steal it!

Stealing like an artist means collecting things you really love. It means identifying the music, literature, paintings, photographs, food, architecture, etc., that stirs up an emotional response and then using that work to inspire your own.

Kleon recommends keeping a file of all the inspiration you steal, whether it’s in a journal, scrapbook, or even on your smartphone. (I have a separate Pinterest board just for this purpose.) When you’re feeling drained of your creative juices, just open up your records, and start brainstorming.

3. Realize that side projects are important

Kleon also suggests taking the time to work on your side projects and hobbies. If you already work in a creative field, is there another hobby you’d like to pick up that’s just for you? A side project or hobby can help fuel your creativity and your work. Doing something that’s “just for you” takes off all the pressure to be creative and perfect. Plus, it’s fun!

Stealing like an artist does not mean you should start plagiarizing another artist’s work. Rather, it means you should find the work you love and learn how to transform it into something new, something of your own. It means recognizing that your side projects and hobbies are important ways to fuel your creativity.

There are plenty of other great pieces of life advice from the book, and I highly suggest it to anyone hoping to pursue a more creative and fulfilling life. You can also watch Kleon’s TEDx talk here.

So, what inspires you? How can you make it your own? Leave us a message in the comments and keep updated with our social media pages to learn what’s inspiring us to #CreateTheFuture this week!

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Evelyn Ritzi

As Communications Specialist for the Ohlmann Group, Evelyn is responsible for all things public relations. From writing engaging content and press releases to organizing events, Evelyn works to foster and maintain positive relationships between clients and the public.

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