The other day, I was entering used books into the database at work, and I happened upon a copy of Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I flipped through the pages, and while many resounded with me, I was particularly impacted by the notion that, as artists, we must meticulously curate the media we take in. The things we watch, listen to, read, are the things that come back out of us when we create.
This got me thinking about my influences. Many of them are common enough for a writer to cite (super-poetic songwriters like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Bruce Springsteen; radical writers and artists like Terry Bison, Evan Greer, Kate Bornstein, and Ricardo Flores Magon; writers who write from experiences that are culturally outside my own like Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy; experimental writers like Samuel Beckett, David Mitchell, Georges Perec, and Italo Calvino. I think how all these writers and artists combine together in my mind, how many of the things I write are remixes of what they have or are saying, all mixed up with my own experience, hope, and creativity.
What I get out of this combination is purely me, but also them. It’s working class, it’s poetic, it’s about the down-and-out or the outright loser, it’s sometimes fantastical, sometimes told through the lens of genre, sometimes told as straight and realistic as it gets.
In his book, Kleon also says that it’s important to view yourself in a lineage of artists. It’s kind of audacious to place yourself among people who are so great, but when you think of yourself as their great-grandchild, cousin, great niece or nephew, someone youthfully entranced with playing games while they’re being great, it’s a little less daunting.
Here are some of Kleon’s wonderful illustrations to get you started stealing!