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A cross between a calendar of famous quotes and a pamphlet of bottled wisdom, Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” eulogizes 10 things, despite knowing all of which , you either pretended to be unaware or decided to be intransigent. And in the process, sacrificing your innate creative bent. Comprising all of 133 pages, half of which are compelling illustrations and headline quotes set in font size a wee bit shorter than an advertisement hoarding, “Steal Like An Artist” leaves you feeling ambivalent. The experience is akin to that of a diner whose initial astonishment at the sheer exotic array of options promised to him, is dampened by the subsequent realisation that every single choice is either a translated version of or a cleverly disguised synonym for cabbage. But extremely and ‘cruciferously’ healthy, nonetheless.
Kleon’s principles are very simple. “Steal but do not plagiarise.” You can emulate Rembrandt if he is your cup of tea. But please do not reproduce a Rembrandt and pass it off as a ‘rebrand’ (Ok he does not say it in as many words, but you get the message). Better still as Kleon suggests, hang pictures of your inspirations at the place of your work. “They are like friendly ghosts. I can almost feel them pushing me forward as I’m hunched over my guest.” I must have hung my heroes upside down because neither the ghost of Orwell nor the spirit of Hemingway have displayed even a modicum of altruism and wholeheartedness in lending a hand to their worshipper.
The one principle which appealed to me and made me sit up is the one involving a mix of both analog and digital tools. Arguing that remaining perpetually hunched over a laptop has drained the modern day man of his creativity, Kleon exhorts us to use our hands whether it be writing or playing an instrument or engaging in craft. I couldn’t agree more. Nothing satisfies me more than scribbling a poem , even if it is absolute balderdash or malarkey using my fountain pen.
Yet another dollop of wisdom has to do with the mischief of Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Kleon urges us to “Google everything”. Just to make sure you understand both the Noun and the succeeding pronoun very clearly, he continues: “I mean everything. Google your dreams, Google your problems. Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question”. So basically you have a choice of ending up either a Cyberchondriac or a Donald Trump (is there a difference?) and everyone in between.
A fantastic piece of advice is to carry a notepad/notebook (not the ones that made Michael Dell and Bill Gates who they are) and a pen wherever you happen to go. When artists such as David Hockney and Arthur Russell can get their clothes tailored in such a manner so as to facilitate stuffing of scrap papers and notepads, what prevents you from doing the same? I have personally been the beneficiary of this practice. I make it a point to always carry a note pad and a pen, both in the hopes that I will meet Salma Hayek one day and get her autograph and (mind you it is not an “or” but a vehement “and”) be so inspired by events unfolding around me that it makes me whip up a masterpiece akin to that penned by Friedreich Hayek! I have scribbled down a plethora of notes while commuting in public conveyances and while waiting to board one too.
A curious piece of wisdom involves “marrying well”. Kleon asserts that “it takes a real champion of a person to be married to someone who’s obsessed with a creative pursuit.” Maybe Roger Federer can confirm this fact. Or would it be Mrs. Federer who would be most well equipped to corroborate this statement? My unmarried status precludes me from either refuting or agreeing with this particular philosophy.
Keeping your day job whilst still hustling over the weekends and during times spent away from your day job is a very sensible suggestion. Just so that there is no confusion between livelihood and irrational exuberance, Kleon warns his readers to clearly demarcate between a steady job and creative activities. However one needs to make it clear that the day job needs to be such that it doesn’t want to make you vomit. While on days I have experienced mild bouts of regurgitation, I am yet to reach the retching phase of my profession. Touch wood!
Kleon ends his book by giving a list of a few more books to read. Some of his recommendations being, “What is It” by Lynda Barry; “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde; “reality Hunger” by David Shields; “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott (I can vouch for this book personally. An absolute masterpiece).
Let me end here. I need to take down the uncooperative duo of Messrs. Orwell and Hemingway and replace them with Ms. Virginia Woolf and Mr. J.R.R.Tolkien.
May The Force Be With Us All!