I had been searching for a list of top books for web design/development and I came across “Top 20 of Best Web Design Books Recommended Most Times by Web Design Pros” by Consultants500. As the title suggests, they went through various lists and compiled the most-repeated books into a list of 20. On this list were two non-design and non-web development related books: Choose Yourself by James Atucher and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.
Choose Yourself is okay. I’m personally still reading through it because it hasn’t resonated with me too much. There’s a lot of good stuff in there that DID resonate, but there are other parts that do not.
Steal Like an Artist, on the other hand, is a book I would recommend to everyone. It’s a fast read and honest. If you do anything creative (which, YOU DO, even if you don’t think you do), read this book.
If Creatives had their own Bible, this probably would be, it’s so spot on.
I loved this book so much, I read it twice and wrote down all the lessons into my journal.
The first thing to note about this book is that it is square.
It is a black, square book with white font that almost looks like someone wrote it. The subtitle is “10 things nobody told you about being creative”.
There is some red text noting that it’s a New York Times Bestseller and a red circle with white text with a comment for the book. Other than that, there is no other colour.
The book is softcover with a soft laminate and red inner flaps that make for excellent bookmarks. The front flap has the summary of the book, while the back flap has an author’s bio. The back cover lists the 10 things this book talks about.
The titles of each section, as well as images and quotes, are placed on black pages with white font, while the pages with just words are the regular black text on white paper.
Each section is broken down into smaller lessons that explain the larger ones. For instance, the first section is “Steal Like an Artist”. Within this section, it contains the following breakdown of the main idea: “How to Look at the World (Like an Artist)”, “Nothing is Original”, “The Genealogy of Ideas”, “Garbage in, Garbage out”, “Climb Your Own Family Tree”, “School Yourself”, and “Save Your Thefts for Later”. Each section title uses what looks like the same font as the front, while the text elaborating on each idea is in a more reader-friendly font.
I’m a huge fan of the presentation. I love how it looks, I love how it feels, and I love how it reads. I love how each section breaks down the big idea into smaller ones that let you gain a better understanding of it.
I think it was a great idea to make the pictures, quotes, and section titles on black backgrounds. It makes them stand out.
Austin Kleon drops a bunch of truth bombs and inspiration in succession. I found all the big ideas agreeable and most of the smaller, broken down ones also agreeable. I think there was two or three I personally did not agree with, although other people reading it may agree and that’s fine. After all, Austin Kleon more or less says at the end to take what works for you and leave what doesn’t.
“What didn’t you agree with?” – the one that really stands out to me is about saving and holding onto money. I’m more about the ~RICH LIFE~, as is written about in I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi and my own work through my money issues have lead me to remove “saving” from my vocabulary and replacing it with “building”, but that’s another story.
I found that there were a lot of conclusions that I’ve come to or had started to come to within this book. For instance, the classic “fake it ’til you make it” is one of the smaller ideas, a particular idea I’m a fan of! I’m not always great at it, but I like to use it in a mindset shifting sense so by the time I’m doing the thing for real, I’ve already been doing it!
I also found that ideas I hadn’t thought of or had come across were very inspirational. One of the ideas that really stuck with me was in Chapter 3: Write the Book You Want to Read. He asks a really fun question about what kind of story would your favourite creatives write together. Immediately, I thought of Takeshi Shudo and Walt Disney. And then my mind was blown by that idea.
The content in this book ultimately helped me to get back to creating content. I’ve held back for a long time and it’s one of three things that made me look at what I was doing and ask “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?!”.
He’s Not Talking About Plagiarism
The title of the book might start sounding the alarm for some people. Steal Like an Artist brings up images of people copying others’ works word-for-word or taking ideas and reproducing it almost verbatim. It invokes fears of no credit. It invokes fears of having your hard work swiped out from under you while someone else gets all the glory.
This is not what he is talking about.
He’s talking about something you probably already do if you make anything – you pull from a whole bunch of different sources for inspiration and ideas. These ideas get filtered through you and you put out something that is different from what the original inspiration material was.
When you “steal” ideas from other sources and you spit it back out, the way you put it out is not going to be the same as the original. It’s going to be your version of it. It may be easy to pinpoint the original “stolen” idea, but it may also be very difficult. (Also, you may have not even been aware that you “stole” an idea at all – instead, you and another person could’ve filtered “stolen” (i.e. inspiration) ideas from other sources and arrived at very similar conclusions.)
I think this is a hard concept for a lot of people to accept. We like to think we are so original, but what makes us original is how we spit back out the input we’ve taken in, rather than pull random ideas out of no where (hint: you can’t). The input can come from all over – from books, from movies, and even experiences in our lives and the lives of others.
It doesn’t help either there is a stigma around taking other peoples ideas, even though they are literally just that…ideas.
“Well, I still think this was bad! How would you feel if someone stole your works or your ideas?!”
If it was word-for-word, picture-for-picture, no credit AND claiming it as their own, I would have a problem. But that’s not what’s being talked about here.
If a person, on the other hand, consumed my work and spit out there own after running with an idea they got for mine, good on them! I think that’s awesome. Like, I don’t know, maybe someone loves my apple-loving vampire character and decided that they wanted a quirky vampire character like that too, except instead of apples, maybe it’s cake.
Maybe I have a bit of a better understanding of this concept because I have quite a few stories that have come from an idea that originated with someone else and I took it and REALLY transformed it to the point it resembles nothing of the original.
Whether you want a kick in the butt to start posting your works, a release of fears towards your ideas being too similar to someone else’s, or just wanting a quick, informative read, I highly recommend this book. It’s worth reading. BIG time.
If you don’t want to read the book, at least watch his TED talk: