A Summary and Review of the Book, Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

This summary and review of the book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, was prepared by Kailee O. Hughes while a Marketing student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.

Executive Summary

In order to steal like an artist, we must first learn how to see the world as an artist sees the world.  An artist views the world as something to steal inspiration from.  The rest of us need to look at the world as something to steal inspiration from too.  We shouldn’t try to separate it into good or bad.  We just need to simply decide is it worth stealing or not?  All creative work is just a building block on past creative work.

We are all scared to start doing creative work.  One of our biggest excuses is that we want to wait until we know ourselves a little better to get started working.  Author Austin Kleon tells us that we don’t really get to know ourselves until we start doing our creative work.  We can also feel like we are the only ones who are ‘winging it’ once we actually do the work.  Just ask anyone though.  None of them really know exactly where the good stuff comes from.  They just show up to work and do it.  This is one of the easiest ways to be creative.

The next piece of advice Kleon gives us is to write what we like; not write what we know.  At some point we all ask ourselves what we should write about next.  Any advice we get on writing what we know is bad advice.  We need to write what we like and enjoy.  At its most basic form this is fan fiction.  The best part about this advice?  It can be translated over into any area of life that we want to be creative in.  Whenever we are trying to figure out the next step in life we can ask ourselves, “What will make a better story?” Then we can go from there.

In order to be creative we need to involve our whole selves in our work.  This means trying to involve as many senses as possible in the creative process.  Kleon tells us to stay off of the computer for as long as we can.  Using the computer makes it far too easy to delete our ideas and cut our creative process short.  Kleon tells us how he achieves this.  He has a ‘digital’ desk and an ‘analog’ desk.  Electronics are not allowed on the analog desk.  This is where our work should be born.  Then Kleon moves to his digital desk to edit and publish his work.  This is where we should tie all of our ideas together.

We need to practice productive procrastination.  Procrastination isn’t the usual word we hear when we are thinking of starting a project.  But, this is some of the best advice out there when it comes to creativity.  Taking time to be bored opens our minds up to focus on different creative outlets that we don’t usually get a chance to focus on.

Kleon tells us to take advantage of the time of our lives when we are ‘undiscovered’.  While most people spend their time searching and searching for ways to ‘make it big’, Kleon tells us just the opposite of that.  The time in our lives when we don’t have a public image to manage or an agent to email is very important.  This is a time when we can be creative with all of the freedom in the world.  We have to use this time to get really good at our work, so when we are discovered we can be recognized for the good stuff.

Enjoy captivity.  This isn’t the usual feeling described with the word captivity, but this is how Kleon advises us to feel when we feel trapped.  No matter what the reason is that leaves us feeling trapped, we can take heart.  There is a community of people on the Internet for us to connect with.  There a tons of ways to connect with people on the Internet to surround ourselves with creativity and to search for things to steal.  And of course, along with the Internet, it is important to surround ourselves with things we love.  Decorate with items we love.  Listen to inspirational music.  Do things that make us happy.

Because our world is so connected now Kleon reminds us of just how important the golden rule is in our society.  We want to ignore our enemies and we want to make friends.  The best way to make friends on the Internet is to simply say nice things about them.  Kleon also teaches us to surround ourselves with talent on the Internet.  Pay attention to the work they do and what they are talking about.  Kleon tells us to find the most talented person in the room and learn from them.  Then, if we ever find ourselves to be the most talented person in the room it is time to leave and find a new room.

Two basic things to being creative are also very simple.  Kleon tells us to take care of ourselves in every aspect of our lives, and to also stay out of debt.  These two principles are important because taking care of these helps us to stay less stressed.  Being less stressed also helps us to be much more open and creative.  Next, Kleon tells us to get and keep a day job.  (Doing this part really helps out with taking care of ourselves and staying out of debt.)  We probably won’t be able to sustain a living off of doing only what we love for a while, so we can find regular, boring nine-to-five jobs that help teach us more about our creativity.  Find a day job we love where we can channel into the creative work we really love doing.

The final stage in creativity is knowing what to leave out of our work.  True creativity is subtraction.  Our world today is almost always in information overload.  It is our job not to add to that.  If we ever feel stuck in not knowing what to add or subtract to our work, Kleon advises us to place constraints on our work.  In being creative limitations are actually freedom.  They push us past any excuses we may have into what can be some of our very best work.  At this point we have all of the tools we need to be successful in the creative process.  (Kleon, 2012)

The Ten Things Today’s Businessperson Needs to Know from Steal Like an Artist  

1. Steal like an artist.

In today’s economy rightsizing seems to be the trend.  This trend can be quite scary when you are an employee at a business where this can potentially happen.  So, what is the best advice from Kleon to maintain a competitive advantage?  Steal the way an artist steals.  Look at the things this world has as either worth stealing or not worth stealing.  Steal the things that will help make your company stand out and be successful.  The important thing to remember in stealing is this is in a creative way, never in an illegal or unethical way.  We don’t plagiarize.  As businesspeople we steal from the good stuff, and transform it into what will make our company successful.  

2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.

This is my favorite part of the book.  Fake it ‘til you make it.  This is the greatest advice ever given, especially in the business sense.  None of us really have a clue who we are when we finally make the decision to get started doing what we love.  We just start going with it, until we actually figure it out.  In an always changing business world it is extremely important to apply this principle.  We will always have wonders about whether or not we know ourselves enough to accomplish something, but when it gets down to it, we have to go with it.  Because if we don’t do it, someone else will.  

3. Write the book you want to read.

What in the world does writing a book have to do with today’s businesspeople?  It has a lot to do with them, actually.  Kleon tells us the age old answer to the question, “What should I write?” is actually wrong.  The usual answer is, “Write what you know.”  Kleon challenges that by telling us to write something we actually want to read.  This principle translates very smoothly into the business world.  When we are at a cross roads of what to do in our position, we simply ask ourselves, “What will make a better story?”  We use our knowledge of our company and then do something that will make the company better.

4. Use your hands.

Attention! Step away from the computer!  Well, step away from the computer, at least until it is time to edit and publish our work.  Kleon reminds us that creativity should involve all of our senses.  So when we are trying to come up with the next catchy sales pitch, we shouldn’t stare away into our computer screen hoping for an idea to pop up.  It is time to put our computer away and figure out some brainstorming that involves all of our senses.  Our senses work together to help kick-start our brains into action.  We have to remember them, especially in times of frustration in the workplace.  

5. Side projects and hobbies are important.

It can be very easy to get caught up in all of the work that corporate work brings.  Kleon reminds us of the importance of incorporating the other things we love into our lives.  When we come home and watch television for a few hours until we go to bed we are missing out on the exciting things.  Find the other things we love and do them all.  Don’t do them all at the same time, but be sure not to leave out any of the hobbies we love.  When we continue to do the things we love, and combine them with our jobs, each outlet is able to be a more creative and successful one.    

6. The secret:  do good work and share it with people.

Even though this shouldn’t really be a secret, it somehow is.  If we really want to be creative we should do our best work and then share that with others.  It is odd to think that sharing our work is what will help us learn more creativity, but that is exactly what happens.  A great place to share our work with people is the Internet.  This is a place where we can gain feedback and find new ideas to steal from.  Sharing our good work with people is a great way to put fuel into the creative process.  In the workplace, sharing our good ideas with one another is where truly great ideas are born.  In the same way sharing on the Internet works, sharing in the workplace allows collaboration bigger than we could begin to imagine.  Success is sure to follow.      

7. Geography is no longer our master.

It can be easy to feel stuck in the town we live in.  No matter why we feel stuck, we have a community on the Internet to be a part of and steal from.  Kleon also teaches us to build up our own community.  Listen to good music and hang posters.  Create a world around us that we love.  We aren’t trapped by the geography (or corporate culture) that surrounds us.  

8. Be nice.  (The world is a small town.)

An even better way to coin the previous sentence is this:  make friends, ignore enemies.  Specifically when dealing with our interconnected world this advice becomes very important.  If you want to make friends on the Internet it is very easy.  Say nice things about them.  Post a link to their site on whatever piece you are working on.  Don’t do this to get validation.  Just do it to be nice and to make a connection with someone who has stuff that is worth stealing.  Having enemies and creativity don’t mix together.  Just like the phrase says, ignore them.  Don’t waste time picking fights.  Instead, channel that anger into whatever creative project we are working on.  Successful businesspeople today know how important it is to maintain positive attitudes regardless of who they are surrounded by.  Positive attitudes create a better work environment, and a better work environment assists in maintaining a creative atmosphere.

9. Be boring.  (It’s the only way to get work done.)

This is another favorite piece of advice of mine from Kleon.  The days of the wild and crazy creative are over.  It is time for us to take care of ourselves in every way.  It takes a lot of effort and brains to be creative, and if we aren’t taking care of ourselves we are limiting our potential to be creative.  Kleon goes on to also advise us to get a day job and be cheap.  Of course, for business people our day job is what we strive to have and where we hope to bring our creativity.  So while we take care of ourselves to be properly prepared for work, we also know there are times when work has to get done, and we have to be boring to do that.  Saving our money helps us to be less-stressed, and less stress means a greater flow of creativity.   

10. Creativity is subtraction.

The simplest of all the advice in this book, Kleon tells us to choose what to leave out of our work.  Our world is overrun with information today.  The real creativity in us is knowing what to leave out so we do not add to the information overload.  If we really want to practice successful creativity we must place constraints on ourselves, subtract some of the options.  If we have a deadline in two weeks for a company project, finish it in one week.  We could also choose to only do offline research.  The restraint we choose is the not the important part.  The important part is that we do push ourselves to excel, and that excelling brings out the creativity within us.  

Full Summary of Steal Like an Artist

Steal Like an Artist

This unique book is broken up into ten separate chapters of creativity.  The first of these chapters is about learning to steal as an artist steals.  Kleon does not mean that an artist steals paintbrushes and paint and other art supplies, but he means artists steal ideas.  They view the world as inspiration and take everything they can from it.  Kleon sees something in artistry that the rest of the world tends to miss out on.  We all need to be this way when it comes to creativity, especially in the business world.  We look at the world and put away views of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but look to see what is worth stealing and what is not worth stealing.  Kleon points out that nothing is original.  A lot of times when we believe things to be original we are really just unaware of the original sources that were involved.  We should also remember that something that is not worth stealing right now may become worth stealing at a later time.  Kleon points out how the idea that nothing is original can be viewed as a very depressing thing.  In reality, we should be inspired by this.  It takes the pressure off of trying to create something out of nothing.  All we have to do now is recreate in a way that grabs the attention of others.

Now that the pressure to be a magician is off, Kleon directs us to the art of collection.  He teaches us that collecting as an artist collects things is not hoarding.  Artists keep what inspires them.  They don’t keep everything they see.  The saying Kleon tags on with this is simple:  garbage in, garbage out.  It is important to understand that whatever we take in is what will come out.  So to be creative, we want to let the good stuff in, so we can let the good stuff out in our work.  
So, how are we supposed to remember all of the things that bring us inspiration?  Keep a morgue file, of course!  Or, another less scary name for this is a swipe file.  Anything we swipe from others goes straight into the swipe file.  Kleon stresses the importance of keeping paper on us at all times to help keep a good update on our swipe file.  Then on the days we need some inspiration all we have to do is open up our trusty swipe file.

Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started

We all know the feeling.  We are trying to begin work on a project or presentation, or something of the sort, and we sit around and stare for quite a while feeling unprepared and incapable.  And then, some time has passed, the activity is completed, and we have proven we were completely prepared and capable to finish the job.  Kleon reminds us that in order to be creative, we can’t sit around and wait to feel creative.  We would all still be sitting around waiting.  Just like in our school and work activities, we eventually just go and the project gets finished.  
The second takeaway of this chapter is probably my absolute favorite part of the book.  Kleon quotes, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’  I played volleyball for 7 years growing up, and throughout those 7 years my coach quoted this to my teammates and I over and over again.  I attended a public high school where we were quite often out-matched in skill because of the private schools we played who were allowed to recruit.  We would go into our games with a defeated mindset, having not even stepped out onto the court.  Our coach began to instill the mindset of ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ within us.  By my senior year my high school made it the farthest into playoffs they had ever been, and went on to the have the most successful season ever in the history of the school.  We were regular girls who had never been trained professionally.  We loved the sport and we faked it ‘til we made it.  This is where the root of all creative work begins and starts to blossom.
The next step in creativity is copying.  We have our inspiration and now we want to turn it into something.  We do this by copying.  Kleon makes it a very big point to show the difference between plagiarism and copying.  Plagiarism is trying to take someone else’s work as your own.  Copying is a way of learning.  Kleon explains this using the alphabet.  We learn the alphabet by copying it over and over.  We are not stealing it.  We copy it so we can learn it and eventually use it to be creative with it and turn the letters into something exciting.  We pick out who to copy and then what we want to copy from them.  There is something very exciting about copying something particular from someone who inspires us:  we can never perfectly copy anyone.  We turn it into our own.

Write the Book You Want to Read

This bit of advice is as simple as it sounds.  And it is easily translated into other aspects of life.  While the typical answer to figuring out what to write is to write what you know, Kleon points us to write what we like instead.  And if writing isn’t your thing, apply the advice to what you like.  In business, create the solution you need.  Do the things you want done.  Don’t just do what you know how to do.  Be innovative and new.  This is a part of creativity we never even realize.  We can think of it as making our story even better.

Kleon reminds us when we love a piece of work we want more of it.  This is a great starting point.  Kleon tells us to take that desire and then channel it into a work of our own.  If all of our favorites got together and made something what would it be?  Steal from each of them and make something we love out of it.

Use Your Hands

Let’s start with the basics.  Computers are amazing tools.  They help us get things done efficiently and effectively.  But, and this is a large but, they should be used towards the end of our projects.  Computers make it far too easy to delete our ideas.  Computers also keep us from engaging any body parts in our creative process with the exception of our fingers.  Kleon teaches us to try and engage as much of ourselves as we can into the creative process.  Once we start brainstorming, stay away from the computer.  Try to engage each one of our senses into whatever we are creating.  There is something about engaging each part of ourselves that makes our work no longer feel like work.  Suddenly our brains and our bodies are communicating to help push our creativity further.  Kleon tells us to write all of our ideas down.  Don’t erase anything.  Then, once we have our ideas we can move to the computer and let it do what it is meant to do:  record and execute our ideas.

Side Projects and Hobbies are Important

As unusual as it may seem, Kleon advises us to get bored.  Take time to iron your shirts and do the laundry and clean the house.  These monotonous actions allow our brains to really get kick-started into thinking up creative stuff.  Kleon actually came up with a name for it.  He calls it productive procrastination.  When we kick-start our brain and the creativity gets flowing, the good stuff really starts happening.  A lot of times the things we believe are just play turn into our really creative and exciting work.

Kleon also tells us to follow all of our passions.  It is alright and even good to have multiple hobbies and side projects.  Work on them all.  When we get tired of one project, pick up a different one and begin working on it.  Being creative is not about picking one thing and focusing only on it until we complete it.  If anything this only inhibits the creative process.  The key is joining all of the things we love.  This doesn’t mean to try and combine each hobby, job, and side project in your life into one conglomerate project.  It means to not ignore anything we love.  Mixing it all together helps each of the individual projects in a positive way.

The Secret:  Do Good Work and Share it with People

We all love being recognized.  When it comes to our work we all want recognition and to be known.  We strive to be ‘discovered’ and ‘make it big’, but Kleon tells us to take advantage of being unknown.  Although we believe being discovered is the best place to be in life, it is really a more difficult time in relation to our creativity.  Our undiscovered years are a time in our lives where we won’t be judged or expected to act a certain way.  We don’t have a manager and no one expects anything of us.  We have the opportunity to just be plain creative.  Once we are discovered we are no longer able to live in this same way.  Of course, it is not a bad thing to be discovered.  It is just a different thing, and a thing that can be potentially bad for our creativity.  It can be especially bad for our creativity if we don’t take advantage of the time during our ‘undiscovered’ years to really learn how to be creative.
Next Kleon advises us to get involved with the Internet.  Use the Internet as a tool to share our secrets.  We share what we come up with.  Because we are passionate about these things it helps people to feel close with us.  Bringing people into our creative process opens up a wide world of learning.  We get to pick and choose what we put on the Internet.  So, if you are worried about sharing everything, you can share just little bits of everything instead of everything as a whole.

Geography is No Longer Our Master

It is possible to feel creatively limited by the places we call our homes.  Kleon tells us to take heart even through feeling stuck.  There is a community of people and mentors to connect with through the Internet.  Of course, it is important to use this tool the right way.  While the Internet is full of inspiration, we have to remember that it is also important to stay disconnected too.  Take a longer route to work.  Spend some time in solitude.  Read a book.
We do have to eventually leave where are though.  Kleon points out that we can become almost complacent with the environment we live in.  So, it is very important to take the time to visit new places.  We need to make our brain uncomfortable and take ourselves to new places to gain creative perspectives.

Be Nice.  (The World is a Small Town)

Kleon begins this section reminding us how important it is to surround ourselves with positive, creative people.  The best way to make friends on the Internet is very simple.  Say nice things about the people you want to surround yourself with.  A Google alert tells people when their names have been mentioned on the Internet.  This also means that whenever something not-so-nice is posted to the Internet a person will also be alerted.  Kleon tells us to refrain from that.  Making enemies will only surround us with negativity, and that is pointless.  We should also ignore any negativity that is sent our way.  Eventually people will stop wasting their time being negative.  
It is very important to surround ourselves with creativity and talent.  Find the most creative people in your life and hang out with them.  Help them out.  Ask for advice.  And if you ever find that you are the most creative person in the room, it is time to leave and find a new room.  
There are many emotions that can be used in channeling creativity.  One of Kleon’s favorite emotions to channel into his creativity is anger.  But we have to be wary if this is a creative tool of ours.  Most people get it wrong when using anger.  They pick fights instead of actually channeling it into some sort of work.  In order to use anger as a creative tool, we must get to work.  We can’t waste it on complaining or lashing out.  So, as Kleon says, “Keep your mouth shut and go do your work.”
With all of the influences we bring into our lives, it is important to acknowledge them for it.  But, we should acknowledge them only because we admire them.  We should not acknowledge them to gain any sort of recognition.  This is a special way to be creative.  We can show our appreciation through expounding on our influence’s work or just writing a quick blog about them with a link to their work.  Through the Internet the ways to show our appreciation are limitless.  Showing admiration without expecting anything in return will bring us into a new realm of creativity.
Much like the morgue file Kleon taught us about earlier, we are now advised to keep a praise file.  It is exactly like it sounds.  Any time we gain praise on our work, save it to our praise file.  When our work takes off we will be showered with praise, which can be very wonderful and disorienting, as Kleon says.  So it is important to remember that the praise will taper off.  We don’t want to run around with big heads.  The praise file isn’t something we keep for the good times.  We use the praise file when we feel uncreative and discouraged.  Not to relive the glory days, but to be filled with positivity and creativity.  And, of course, remember to always delete the nasty emails.  There is no room for them anywhere, especially not in our creative lifestyles.

Be Boring.  (It’s the Only Way to Get Work Done.)

Step number 1 to being boring:  Take care of yourself.  Kleon tells us about how the past image of creative genius is gone.  Doing drugs and sleeping around is not how to be creative.  Kleon tells us creativity takes work, time, and energy.  So we have to use that time wisely and not waste it away.  It is pretty safe to assume we will be around for a while.  We should actually take time to take care of ourselves.  Then we can use our work, time, and energy to be creative and make a difference.  
Step number 2 to being boring:  Stay out of debt.  This one is as simple as it sounds.  Staying out of debt means having the resources to be creative.  
Step number 3 to being boring:  Keep your day job.  It will probably be a very long time before we can live off of doing only what we love.  So, in the mean time, Kleon advises us to get a day job and keep it.  Our day job will put us around other people.  Having other people in our lives means having other people to steal from.  Kleon tells us to try and find jobs that can help us in our creativity and that will teach us things.  Having a day job does mean we will have less time to do our creative work.  Kleon tells us to think of Parkinson’s Law when we start to believe our day job is sucking away all of our free time.  Parkinson’s Law basically states that work gets done in the amount of time there is to do it.  So take time to establish a schedule and go with it.  Carve out specific time to be creative and use that time.  It isn’t always going to be fun to live a ‘double life’, but it is a part of being creative.  Remember to take from the jobs we have and apply it to our creativity.
Step number 4 to being boring:  Get yourself a calendar.  As Kleon says, “A calendar helps you plan work, gives you concrete goals, and keeps you on track.”  Break your day into chunks and mark off each chunk as you accomplish it.  After a few days you will have a chain.  Continue to follow the chain and you will continue to accomplish things.  
Step number 5 to being boring:  Keep a logbook.  This step goes right along with step number 4.  We need to keep a log of our future events, but we also need to keep a log of our past events.  The small details help us to remember the big details, so be sure not to leave those out.  After a little while you will have a personal log to look back on and be encouraged by.  We will be amazed at how inspiring retrospect is.   
The final step to being boring:  Marry well.  Who we marry will not just be our life partner.  This person will be a part of everything we do-including our creativity.  Our spouse will be pretty much everything.  He or she will be an editor, a maid, a cook, a motivational speaker, and so on all at the same time.  So, be sure to marry well.  He or she will be a big part of our lives.

Creativity is Subtraction

Kleon tells us the best way to get over creative block is so place some constraints on ourselves.  Doing this will help push us to actually do creative work.  Much like having a day job pushes us to use our time wisely; having constraints helps us to have a creative edge in our work.  
Doing creative work means knowing what to leave out.  A lot of times in artwork it is what an artist leaves out that makes it interesting.  The same principle applies to other creative works.  We have to know what to subtract to make our work interesting.  Our world today is already in information overload.  The creativity we put out in the world should not add to that.  
So now our only job left is to go and do creative work!  (Kleon, 2012)       

The Video Lounge

I stumbled across this video clip as I was researching to find reviews on Steal Like an Artist.  I was very excited to see that it was a presentation from Austin Kleon.  After finishing Steal Like an Artist I became very interested in what type of person Kleon is.  This video was able to show me exactly that.  He is, to my surprise, just how he describes himself in the book.  He is a normal, everyday guy just trying to incorporate creativity into his life.  This video clip goes over many of the points he includes in his book.  Kleon presents these points in a practical way with some of his fun art work, pictures, and quotes included.  My favorite part of this video clip is when Kleon lives out exactly what he teaches. In this video Kleon is one of many presenters at a conference, and he tells the audience what he will be stealing from the previous speakers.  It was very interesting to see how simple and exciting it is to apply these principles to life.  It isn’t rocket science.  It is just creativity. We need to see the creativity that surrounds us and use and take advantage of it (Popova, Austin Kleon on Cultivating).

The link for the video is as follows:


Personal Insights

Why I think:

  • The author is one of the most brilliant people around…or is full of $%&#, because:

I believe Austin Kleon is one of the most brilliant people around.  The approach he takes on teaching creativity is one of the best I have ever learned from.  I love how Kleon just lists things to do that will help engage me into being creative.  He doesn’t try to give ways to be creative because he knows this differs for everyone.  Kleon teaches us how to really open ourselves up to the creativity that surrounds us all and be aware of it.  He teaches us how to pull it into our own lives.  I really enjoyed the time I have spent reading through this book.  Even as I began writing my report I realized I had been staring into my computer screen for far too long-of course, I realized this when I got into the Use Your Hands chapter.  I believe Kleon is one of the most brilliant people around because I have been able to apply his advice into this paper and see that it actually works.

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. One of the first things I wanted more of as soon as I finished the book was more about the author.  Kleon gave us a slight glimpse into his own life, but I wanted more.  He instilled us with such great advice on being creative that it really peaked my interest on how he mixes creativity into his own life.  I love how he is a regular guy who chooses to incorporate creativity into that.  Incorporating creativity into our everyday lives is a big struggle so I would have loved to see a few more pictures and examples of how Kleon accomplishes this.  

2. In the book Kleon talks a lot about the Internet and how great of a resource it is.  He also talks about how to build a community on it if we ever feel stuck or have a lack of creativity.  I would have loved if Kleon would have given us a few resources on how and where to build a positive and creative community on the Internet.  I am from the Internet generation and I have absolutely no idea how to find people on the Internet to build a creative community with.  I would have enjoyed reading a few pointers on exactly how to do that.  

3. One last thing I would have changed in this wonderful book is the deleted scenes.  It is at the very end of the book, after all of the advice is over.  The note card doodles are there waiting on us at the end to give us a little look into the birth of this book.  I absolutely loved reading these.  My complaint though, as silly as it may seem, is that some of them were very difficult to read.  It is so fun getting to see a little bit of what happens in Kleon’s brain, and the note cards are just there.  They are taunting us with no explanations beneath them and some with words that are too small to read.  If I could change this section, I would make the pictures bigger and give a little explanation of what was going through Kleon’s brain when he made them.  The beginning of creativity is beautiful, and I would have loved to see a more into Kleon’s version of that.

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. I began thinking differently about how to use my computer after reading this book.  I am a very calculated person when it comes to doing work, and I can very easily cut the creativity out of it.  After reading the Use Your Hands chapter, it really changed my view on how to bring out the creativity in my projects and in my life.  Now I try and think of all the ways I can involve all of my senses into my work, and it actually helps to bring everything together in a much more creative way.  Then after I have gotten everything figured out I am able to use my computer to help edit and publish the things I am working on.  

2. Kleon also changed my attitude about the Internet.  Growing up in the Internet generation has brought about a million and one different attitudes on what the Internet should be.  We have been told it is sucking away our brains, and that it is the greatest tool ever created.  We have also been told everything in between those two spectrums about the Internet.  So, sometimes it is hard to decipher exactly what the best way to use the Internet is.  Again, Kleon puts it in a simple and understandable way.  The Internet is a great place to do good work and then share it with people.  It is a place to grow our creativity and an even better place to find more things to steal from.  I now see one of the best ways to use the Internet because of how Kleon explains it in the book.

3. I absolutely love the last chapter in Kleon’s book.  It is titled Creativity is Subtraction.  It is genius.  It is also an idea that has never crossed my mind.  I am an information girl.  I like to have all the facts, down to every last detail.  Kleon pushes me past that.  We are in a generation of information overload.  It isn’t a bad thing.  It is just a different thing.  Kleon reminds us that creativity is not supposed to add to that overload.  We have to choose what to leave out.  That is what makes our work interesting.

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. One of the biggest ways I will apply what I have learned from this book to my career is by keeping my eyes open.  The first chapter explains exactly what it means to steal like an artist.  If I am able to get a job in advertising I hope to keep my eyes open to all of the things in the world and ‘steal’ from it.  I can help make my company better by being aware of all of the places I can get creativity from and apply my ‘stolen’ ideas to my work.  

2. My absolute favorite takeaway from this book is the quote, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’  This is very easy to apply to my future career.  There will probably be plenty of times when I am unsure of exactly what to do in my job.  When I come to those difficult times I need to apply this motto.  I will have to fake it ‘til I make it.  As Kleon says, “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.”  This is a great piece of advice that many people do not know.  Where they will flounder away and act confused in the work place, I will work and get work done.  I will apply this until I actually know what the heck I am doing.

3. On the off chance my first job in my future career turns out to be a little monotonous or discouraging, I will apply Kleon’s advice on keeping a praise file.  I expect to have to work my way up in the business world, which means my first job may end up actually being less exciting than what I hope to be as a businesswoman.  So if I am in that situation I will happily keep a praise file on other creative parts of my life.  That way when I am discouraged I can look in my praise file, not to become stuck in the past, but to continue to be positive and creative in my workplace.  I want to be able to be the best I can in my future job, even if I begin in a job that is not as glorious as head advertiser.

  • Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

Angela Carstensen from the “School Library Journal” had great things to say about Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist.  She describes how Kleon’s idea for writing this book came from a speech he gave at a community college.  She loved the tone Kleon gave the book.  It was easy to read and had great advice that was easy to follow.  Carstensen also wrote on how she liked that parents would love for their teens to read this book too.  Kleon’s advice to be healthy and go analog is great for a teen audience.  (Carstensen, 2012)

J. Maureen Henderson not only reviewed Steal Like an Artist, but was also able to gain an interview from Kleon.  Henderson sums it up as this, “Equal parts manifesto and how-to, Steal Like An Artist aims to introduce readers to the idea that all creative work is iterative, no idea is original and all creators and their output are a sum of inspirations and heroes from whom they appropriate and the ideas and content they choose to remix and reimagine as their own body of work.” (Henderson, 2012)  Henderson’s curiosity in wanting to know more about Kleon and how he puts this advice into action in his own life is very evident.  Henderson asks Kleon about this idea of the romantic creative that we have this vision of.  This type of person displays the only way to be creative, and that way is a destructive, tiresome way.  Kleon describes how the idea of creativity being only in a distraught person has actually kept people from believing they can be creative.  Kleon tells us the truth is that we can all be creative.  We have to work it into our daily lives and practice it, just as he says in the book.  From Henderson’s interview we also learn that Kleon actually stole from everyone he could when he first began his career.  He listed some of his favorites as Lynda Berry and Maud Newton.  Henderson’s review and the picking of Kleon’s brain shows us that Kleon really does live by the guidelines and advice he puts in his book.  And not only does he live by them, but they also very clearly work.  Kleon was actually able to quit his day job (which he advises against in the book) because he was able to finally live off of doing what he loves.  (Henderson, 2012)

Maria Popova is one of the many inspirations Kleon has stolen from.  Popova actually wrote her own review of Steal Like an Artist.  Her review is very simple and to the point.  She tells of the origin of Kleon’s idea for the book, and then goes on to list her favorite points in the book.  She has pictures straight out of the book with quick summaries.  Reading her review actually made me want to open the book again and read it.  Popova says, ”  …immersing yourself in Steal Like an Artist is as fine an investment in the life of your mind as you can hope to make.”  (Popova, 2012)

Margarita Tartakovsky is the associate editor of the website “Psych Central”.  She was actually so impressed with Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist that she compiled a list of her favorite advice to include in her review of the book, or as she stated, the advice that she is stealing from the book.  She enjoyed Kleon’s advice on breaking down the ‘family tree’ of the discipline we love by learning about one or two of our favorites at a time.  As an Internet website editor she really appreciated the advice on going analog.  It is important to remember that our creativity starts away from the computer.  She also wrote about pursusing all of our passions, “He [Kleon] quotes playwright Steven Tomlinson, who said about various passions: ‘Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen.’” (Tartakovsky, 2012)


Carstensen, A. (2012, May 3). Adult Books 4 Teens. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from School Library Journal: http://blogs.slj.com/adult4teen/2012/05/03/steal-like-an-artist-10-things-nobody-told-you-about-being-creative/

Henderson, J. M. (2012, March 13). How To Steal Your Way To Success . . . Without Breaking The Law. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2012/03/13/how-to-steal-your-way-to-success-without-breaking-the-law/

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. New York: Workman Publishing Company.

Popova, M. (n.d.). Austin Kleon on Cultivating Creativity in the Digital Age. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from Brain Pickings: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/09/27/steal-like-an-artist-austin-kleon/

Popova, M. (2012, March 8). Steal Like an Artist: Creativity in the Age of the Remix. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/03/steal-like-an-artist-creativity-in-the-age-of-the-remix/254185/

Tartakovsky, M. (2012, March 31). How to Steal Like an Artist and Other Tips On Creativity. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from Psych Central: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/03/31/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-other-tips-on-creativity/


Contact Info: To contact the author of this article, “A Summary and Review of Steal Like an Artist by Kailee O. Hughes,” please email kailee.hughes@selu.edu or fizzy2392@aim.com.  


About the Publisher

David C. Wyld (dwyld@selu.edu) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. His blog, Career News 24/7, can be viewed at http://wyld-about-careers.blogspot.com/.

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  1. Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:48 am

    this is great prof. i have something commending too, do check it

  2. Posted March 10, 2013 at 9:26 am

    this is great prof., so inspiring..

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