Steal like an artist
10 things nobody told you about being creative
This is the title of one of Austin Kleon’s books published in 2012 which became a New York Times bestseller. It’s based on a list of 10 things he wished he’d heard when he was starting out as an artist.
1 - Steal like an artist
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. That’s about all there is to it.
When you look at the world this way, you stop worrying about what’s good and what’s bad - there’s only stuff worth stealing, and stuff that’s not worth stealing.
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
2 - Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started ‘being creative’, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.
You’re ready. Start making stuff.
You might be scared to start. That’s natural. There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called ‘impostor syndrome’. The clinical definition is a ‘psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalise 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.
Guess what: none of us do. 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.
Many more ideas are in the book, which we highly recommend, especially when you feel stuck in your work (whatever that is).
Everything is a REMIX
‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.’ - Ecclesiastes 1:9
‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again’. - André Gide
This week, we bring you Everything is a Remix — a compelling four-part video series mixed into one by filmmaker Kirby Ferguson about the evolution of remixing and collaborative creation, from folk art to today’s most cutting-edge tech-assisted multimedia creations.
Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy
You might steal like an artist, but you might also very well infringe on copyright law. The author Lawrence Lessig insists that copyright law as it stands today is antiquated for digital media since every ‘time you use a creative work in a digital context, the technology is making a copy’. Thus, amateur use and appropriation of digital technology are under unprecedented control that previously extended only to professional use.
Lessig insists that knowledge and manipulation of multi-media technologies is the current generation's form of literacy, what reading and writing was to the previous generation. It is the vernacular of today. The children growing up in a world where these technologies are present in their daily life are unable to comprehend why remixing might be illegal. Lessig insists that because amateur appropriations in the digital age cannot be stopped, they are being criminalised. Thus the most corrosive outcome of this tension is that generations of children are growing up doing what they know is ‘illegal’ and that notion has societal implications that extend far beyond copyright wars.
You can read the book online, as it is available as a free download under one of the Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 3.0)
Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Prior to rejoining the Harvard faculty, Lessig was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school’s Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. He is also the founder of Creative Commons, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon and to share legally.
By the way, if you are ever out of inspiration, since 1996 the Internet Archive, founded by digital librarian Brewster Kahle, has amassed an enormous collection of cultural artefacts - text, audio, moving images, software, even archived web pages — offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars and anyone else interested in the cultural anthropology of our civilisation.