Steal like an Artist – By Austin Kleon

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Creativity is a strange thing. It’s sought after, yet seems elusive, like something that ‘other people’ do – not for those of us rushing through our days, juggling full time jobs and family commitments.

The closest some of us get to being creative might be slightly dishevelled, daggy craft projects inspired by rainy days with the kids. Some dabble with creative writing or drawing, or making super short films on smart phones.

Something that I find surprising is that creativity often springs from the most mundane moments. A flash of an idea while doing the dishes or sitting in traffic. I think we would be genuinely surprised to know where those we consider great artists and musicians find their inspiration. Could “the clock on the silo says 11 degrees” be any more ordinary?

French writer André Gide sums up the frustrations people feel when it comes to creative endeavours, ‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said’ – Promising stuff.

But that’s only half of what he actually said. Stitch the following words to the first thought, and things are looking up. ‘But since no one was listening, everything must be said again’ – Phew!

What’s great about that statement is that it frees people up from the idea that they can, or have to be, truly original. Everything comes from something, somewhere or someone else. Everything.

So what does this mean for expressing creativity? Is it all just paint by numbers copies of DaVinci’s sunflowers – as demonstrated by Julia Roberts’ character, the boundary pushing art history teacher Miss Katherine Watson, in the film Mona Lisa Smile?

Even if we do follow a master, we can choose our own colours, or paint wildly outside the lines. We may begin with DaVinci, but everything we create is imbued with our own perspective and choices.

I found André Gide’s words in Austin Kleon’s terrifically practical and motivating book Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.

Kleon is an American author, who in a former life was a librarian, advertising copywriter and web designer. When he’s not busy writing New York Times best sellers, he speaks about creativity in the digital age for Google, Pixar, and at TEDx events.

What I appreciate most about Kleon’s advice on the creative life is that it is devoid of pie-in-the-sky proclamations such as ‘find your muse’.

The cornerstone of Kleon’s message is simple: creativity isn’t outside your grasp, it is found and nurtured by working creative habits into the life you have right now.

His 10 tips are broken down into engaging, illustrated chapters with titles including ‘Use Your Hands’ and ‘Be Nice’. He even turns the old chestnut ‘write what you know’ on its ear, but you’ll have to read the book to find out more.

I just used one of Kleon’s tips – share your dots, without connecting them. How many books have you read where you’ve used something the author said the very same day?

Creativity isn’t as elusive as we’ve been led to believe. You’ve just got to steal it.

Reviewed by Annette Hill

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