I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. But if you’d like to become a composer or any sort of creative artist, I’d like to recommend a book that recently came my way. The book is called “Steal Like An Artist” and the subtitle is “10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.” The bestselling author is Austin Kleon, a writer and artist.
My son read “Steal Like An Artist” for one of his college classes and gave his copy of the book to my wife, who then shared it with me. It’s an “easy read” — you could read it in about an hour — but this little book is filled with valuable advice.
The main thrust of the book is that no work of art is completely original. All brilliant ideas were inspired by the ideas and accomplishments of others. Thus, when Kleon suggests that we should steal like an artist, he doesn’t mean that we plagiarize or take credit for others’ work.
He means that we should choose the kind of art we want to create, study everything we can about our favorite artists and pay tribute to them by creating unforgettable art of our own.
Here’s a wise observation from page 17 of “Steal Like An Artist.” Kleon wrote, “Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff. I hang pictures of my favorite artists in my studio. They’re like friendly ghosts. I can almost feel them pushing me forward as I’m hunched over my desk.”
Kleon added, “The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want them from them. They left their lesson plans in their work.”
Kleon has made a great point. Many fledgling composers or artists have trouble getting started or are too intimidated to even try. Identifying your heroes and deciding what you admire about their work can give you the courage to follow in their footsteps.
“At some point, you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing,” Kleon explained on page 38 of “Steal Like An Artist.”
I have found this to be true in my own career. I’ve often been asked to compose a piece of music that is similar to the music from a famous film or TV show. Do I steal another composer’s music? Of course not, but I analyze what they have written and draw from their influence to create original music that evokes the same emotions.
Perhaps my favorite bit of advice from “Steal Like An Artist” is on page 79. Kleon wrote, “If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people.”
So I’m not asking you to make a New Year’s resolution. Most New Year’s resolutions fizzle out as fast as the bubbles in the glass of champagne or sparkling apple juice that you drank to welcome the New Year. What I’m asking you to do is to be brave, pursue your creative dreams and most importantly, share your work with your family, friends and community. Happy 2015 and best of luck.