First week of book club and Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon. The first chapter has been on the freedom of admitting we don’t have to have the most original idea for it to become something great. This is probably the third time I’m reading through these books, but the first time I’m reading as a group.

I mean, the plan is to read as a group but right now it’s just me. Beg, borrow, buy or steal (Austin said it!) a copy of this book and join me here. Once we have a few people let’s meet up once a month to discuss what we read.

Here are the first chapter nuggets of wisdom summarized:

  • How to Look at the World (Like an Artist) How can I not love this section? Kleon quotes David Bowie. He points out that good artists look at the world in terms of what is worth stealing, and they focus on that. “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” —David Bowie
  • Nothing is Original If the thought of ‘stealing’ art makes you squeamish, Kleon points out that nothing is really original. The writer Jonathan Lethem is credited with saying if anyone says something is original, they probably just don’t know the original source.
  • The Geneology of Ideas This is the section that made me love Kleon as an author. In this section he proves 1+1=3 sometimes. Using the idea of being a genetic near-copy of your parents, he points out that we are “a mash up” of what we choose to let into our lives.
  • Garbage In, Garbage Out In this section Kleon points out the diference between a collector and a hoarder, and then makes a good case for being a collector of good ideas. When you see a photo that sparks something in you, hear a snippet of song that won’t leave you or find a bit of history you want to relive, he advises to put it away in a file so you can use it for something later.
  • Climb Your Own Family Tree This reminds me of the Okinawan concept of monchu, building a family you choose. He proposes that you find one thinker you love and then find out everything you can about them. Read bios, watch movies, absorb quotes. Then, when you have consumed that thinker go find three they loved. Devour everything about those three. Rinse, repeat.
  • School Yourself Here also is where Kleon won my heart when he urges us to “Google everything.” He also says to always be reading (yes.) and collect books (also yes.)
  • Save Your Thefts for Later He brings the end of the chapter back to the beginning where he talks about stealing everything of intellectual worth. He urges the use of a “swipe file” where you can randomly toss in the snippets of life that inpire to transform to art later.

A lot of this I already do, maybe because I have read these books before. While I haven’t called it a “swipe file” I do keep a Google Drive folder called “Interesting Stuff.” Never go there, it’s full of bizarre audio captured from police radio, images that might haunt you and snippets from obscure text. And lots of advertisements. I do Google everything, am always reading and agree we put to much crushing weight on originality.

But these are just my thoughts. What do you think? I’d love to hear it, better yet, join the book club and let’s read this together. Join up right here.

This week’s chapter: Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started. See you next Friday!

By Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Shimanchu-American and award-winning poet, author, and publisher with 20+ years of experience as a professional writer in nonfiction. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), producer of the Exercise Your Writes YouTube podcast, two-time Bram Stoker Awards® Winner, and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020, find her at

2 thoughts on “Steal Like an Artist, Week 1”
  1. I like this idea — I should say, the ideas expressed. I have always done something similar or the exact same(depends on subject). Along with “stealing”, Grow your art. If you’re stuff still looks the same, your subjects are still the same, etc. in 5 years, it’s time you stretched your craft, addressed your style. Maybe just a tiny bit, but something that shows you’re not at the end of your road already.

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