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Book of the Month: Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon

January’s book of the month is a short read called Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. With a lifetime of lessons packed into 140 pages, this easy reader will open your mind up to a new perspective on creativity, specifically where your ideas come from.

Austin Kleon is a writer and artist who specializes in poetry, his most well known project was the Newspaper Blackout Poetry Collection. He’s got features from NPR, PBS, and the Wall Street Journal under his belt. Steal Like An Artist is made up of advice that he would offer his younger self. What makes this book different from similar genres is its focus on the digital age and the role that the internet plays in a contemporary artist career. It also has several illustrations and visual examples of his own practice which is great for those who need to see it to believe it. Most importantly, the advice Kleon offers in Steal Like An Artist is very practical. Anyone can follow his tips. While having a conceptual understanding of the artmaking process and its challenges can help, sometimes it feels good to see some easy solutions to these seemingly abstract problems.

The inflammatory title of the book is usually what draws readers in. Stealing? What does it mean to steal like an artist? Kleon argues that no idea is truly original, every innovation is an appropriation of already existing elements. Kleon encourages the reader to lean into this notion, and to shamelessly steal bits and pieces from everything you admire, eventually creating something “new”. Make no mistake, there is such a thing as “bad theft”, according to Kleon. But the difference lies in the intention and extension of one’s theft. Still confused? You should read the book. It offers further insight and advice on the creative process, specifically building a healthy and sustainable mindset around creating. There were many times where I would read a piece of advice and think to myself, “Well, duh!” but then again, it wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my mind before reading it. I think that’s how you know when advice is good, it just shines a light on an attainable, almost obvious, solution.

Specifically, the book focuses on 10 lessons which are summarized on the back cover. When you first read them, they really don’t resonate. But after finishing the book, they serve as powerful mantras that your brain can revisit in times of uncertainty.

  1. Steal like an artist.

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

  3. Write the book you want to read.

  4. Use your hands.

  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.

  6. The Secret: Do good work and share it with people.

  7. Geography is no longer our master.

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

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

  10. Creativity is subtraction.

Steal Like An Artist can be found in our library in the Artmaking and Creativity Collection. Visit us during gallery hours to peruse our growing collection of educational materials. If you have a suggestion for a book every creative should know about, or would like to donate materials, send an email to

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