Steal Like an Artist
1.Steal Like An Artist
- “Art is theft.” —Pablo Picasso
- “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” —T. S. Eliot
- Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” The honest artist answers, “I steal them.”
- How does an artist look at the world? First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing.
- Everything is up for grabs. If you don’t find something worth stealing today, you might find it worth stealing tomorrow or a month or a year from now.
- “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” —David Bowie
- “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Bible,Ecclesiastes 1:9)
- Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.
- The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.
- School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap. Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education.
- You have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else—that’s how you’ll get ahead.
- Google everything. 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.
- Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.
- Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. “Nothing is more important than an unread library.”
- Don’t worry about doing research. Just search.
- “Whether I went to school or not, I would always study.” —RZA
- Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations. Copy your favorite passages out of books. Record overheard conversations. Doodle when you’re on the phone. Go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure you always have paper on you.
- Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like—a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. It can be digital or analog—it doesn’t matter what form it takes, as long as it works. You can keep a scrapbook and cut and paste things into it, or you can just take pictures of things with your camera phone.
- See something worth stealing? Put it in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file.
- “It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.” —Mark Twain
2.Don’t Wait until Your Know Who You Are to Get Started
- The clinical definition is a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It means that you feel like a phony, like you’re just winging it, that you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing.
- Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.
- All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.Fake it ’til you make it.
I love this phrase. There are two ways to read it: ①. 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; or ②. Pretend to be making something until you actually make something. They pretended to be artists.
- The point is: All the world’s a stage. Creative work is a kind of theater. The stage is your studio, your desk, or your workstation. The costume is your outfit—your painting pants, your business suit, or that funny hat that helps you think. The props are your materials, your tools, and your medium. The script is just plain old time. An hour here, or an hour there—just time measured out for things to happen. Fake it ’til you make it.
- “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” —Yohji Yamamoto
- Nobody is born with a style or a voice. 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.
- We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces.
- First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second, you have to figure out what to copy.
- If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research.
- Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.
- We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” —Francis Ford Coppola
- At some point, you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing.
- There isn’t a move that’s a new move.” The basketball star Kobe Bryant has admitted that all of his moves on the court were stolen from watching tapes of his heroes.
- Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work.
- Their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add.
- I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.” —Kobe Bryant
3.Write the Book You Want to Read
- Fictional stories based on characters that already exist.
- The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. The same principle applies to your life and your career: Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?”
- Think about your favorite work and your creative heroes. What did they miss? What didn’t they make? What could’ve been made better? If they were still alive, what would they be making today? If all your favorite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew? Go make that stuff.
- 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.
4.Use Your Hands
- “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
- We need to move, to feel like we’re making something with our bodies, not just our heads.
- Work that only comes from the head isn’t any good. Watch a great musician play a show. Watch a great leader give a speech.
- You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. Our nerves aren’t a one-way street—our bodies can tell our brains as much as our brains tell our bodies. You know that phrase, “going through the motions”? That’s what’s so great about creative work: If we just start going through the motions, if we strum a guitar, or shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay, the motion kickstarts our brain into thinking.
- “I have stared long enough at the glowing flat rectangles of computer screens. Let us give more time for doing things in the real world . . . plant a plant, walk the dogs, read a real book, go to the opera.” —Edward Tufte
- The cartoonist Tom Gauld says he stays away from the computer until he’s done most of the thinking for his strips
- Unlike a hard drive, paper doesn’t crash.) The digital desk has my laptop, my monitor, my scanner, and my drawing tablet. This is where I edit and publish my work.
- Try it: If you have the space, set up two workstations, one analog and one digital.
5.Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important
- Take time to be bored. One time I heard a coworker say, “When I get busy, I get stupid.”
- Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes. Take a really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can.
- Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.
- If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life. If you love different things, you just keep spending time with them.
- “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” —Steve Jobs
- It’s so important to have a hobby. A hobby is something creative that’s just for you.
- You don’t try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy. A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.
6.The Secret:Do Good Work and Share It with People
- There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better. No public image to manage. No huge paycheck on the line. No stockholders. No e-mails from your agent. No hangers-on.
- You’ll never get that freedom back again once people start paying you attention, and especially not once they start paying you money. Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. Use it.
- Do good work and share it with people.It’s a two-step process. Step one, “do good work,” is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Step two, “share it with people,” was really hard up until about ten years ago or so. Now, it’s very simple: “Put your stuff on the Internet.”
- The Secret of internet. Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you. You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about. If everybody’s wondering about apples, go wonder about oranges. The more open you are about sharing your passions, the closer people will feel to your work.
- When you open up your process and invite people in, you learn.
- Learn to code. Figure out how to make a website. Figure out blogging. Figure out Twitter and social media and all that other stuff. Find people on the Internet who love the same things as you and connect with them. Share things with them.
- You don’t have to share everything—in fact, sometimes it’s much better if you don’t. Show just a little bit of what you’re working on. Share a sketch or a doodle or a snippet.. Share a little glimpse of your process. Think about what you have to share that could be of some value to people. Share a handy tip you’ve discovered while working. Or a link to an interesting article. Mention a good book you’re reading.
- “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
7.Geography Is No Longer Our Master
- “It isn’t necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you.”
- All you need is a little space and a little time—a place to work, and some time to do it; a little self-imposed solitude and temporary captivity.
- I always carry a book, a pen, and a notepad, and I always enjoy my solitude and temporary captivity.
- “Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.” —Jonah Lehrer
- Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.
- The best way to vanquish your enemies on the Internet? Ignore them. The best way to make friends on the Internet? Say nice things about them.
- “There’s only one rule I know of: You’ve got to be kind.” —Kurt Vonnegut
- Remember “garbage in, garbage out”? You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online—the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work. Pay attention to what they’re talking about, what they’re doing, what they’re linking to.
- Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful.
- If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.
- “Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” —Craig Damrauer
- “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” —Gustave Flaubert
- Do yourself a favor: Learn about money as soon as you can.Make yourself a budget. Live within your means. Pack your lunch. Pinch pennies. Save as much as you can. Get the education you need for as cheap as you can get it. The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture.
- A day job puts you in the path of other human beings. Learn from them, steal from them.
- Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time.
- The solution is really simple: Figure out what time you can carve out, what time you can steal, and stick to your routine. Do the work every day, no matter what. No holidays, no sick days. Don’t stop. What you’ll probably find is that the corollary to Parkinson’s Law is usually true: Work gets done in the time available.
- A calendar helps you plan work, gives you concrete goals, and keeps you on track.
- Just as you need a chart of future events, you also need a chart of past events. A logbook isn’t necessarily a diary or a journal, it’s just a little book in which you list the things you do every day.
- What project you worked on, where you went to lunch, what movie you saw. It’s much easier than keeping a detailed diary, and you’d be amazed at how helpful having a daily record like this can be, especially over several years. The small details will help you remember the big details.
- “If you ask yourself ‘What’s the best thing that happened today?’ it actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection that pulls up from the recent past things to write about that you wouldn’t otherwise think about. If you ask yourself ‘What happened today?’ it’s very likely that you’re going to remember the worst thing, because you’ve had to deal with it—you’ve had to rush somewhere or somebody said something mean to you—that’s what you’re going to remember. But if you ask what the best thing is, it’s going to be some particular slant of light, or some wonderful expression somebody had, or some particularly delicious salad.” —Nicholson Baker
- Who you marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make. And “marry well” doesn’t just mean your life partner—it also means who you do business with, who you befriend, who you choose to be around
10.Creativity is Subtraction
- The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. Write a song on your lunch break. Paint a painting with only one color. Start a business without any start-up capital. Shoot a movie with your iPhone and a few of your friends. Build a machine out of spare parts. Don’t make excuses for not working—make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now.
- “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
- You must embrace your limitations and keep moving. In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.
- What Now?
- Talk a walk
- Start your swipe file
- Go to the library
- Buy a notebook and use it
- Get yourself a calendar
- Start your logbook
- Give a copy of this book away
- Start a blog Take a nap
- Recommended Reading
- Linda Barry, What It Is
- Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody
- Jason Fried + David Heinemeier Hansson, Rework
- Lewis Hyde, The Gift
- Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence
- David Shields, Reality Hunger
- Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
- Ed Emberley, Make a World