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March 9, 2012

Book Notes - Austin Kleon - "Steal Like an Artist"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Early last year I was re-reading Lynda Barry's What It Is. I commented to my wife, a visual artist, how few books with the aim of building creativity work (with the exception of Barry's). Then I mentioned that I have always found inspiration in Austin Kleon's blog and works, and that he would write a useful and inspiring book on the topic. Then a couple of weeks later, this book was announced.

Steal Like an Artist offers 10 simple rules to foster creativity, maxims that apply as much to everyday life as to the arts. Kleon offers powerful tips to jumpstart our art and work, but most importantly, our lives.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Austin Kleon's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative:

My new book Steal Like an Artist began its life as a simple list of 10 things I wish I'd heard when I was starting out. The basic premise of the book is that you are a mashup of what you let into your life — creativity is not a magic, but rather, something everyone can do if they surround themselves with the right influences, word hard, and play nice. I've matched each chapter with a song I was listening to while writing the book. You can listen along to the playlist on Rdio or Spotify.

David Bowie, "Queen Bitch"

Chapter 1: "Steal like an artist." Cameron Crowe once asked David Bowie if he thought he was original, and he said, "Not by any means. More like a tasteful thief. The only art I'll ever study is stuff I can steal from." Except for the epigraphs, that's the first quote in my book. And, appropriately, the main riff from "Queen Bitch" is lifted from the Eddie Cochran song, "Three Steps to Heaven."

Destroyer, "Looters' Follies"

Chapter 2: "Don't wait until you know who you are to get started." We learn by copying our heroes, and Destroyer's Dan Bejar has copied plenty from Mr. Bowie, and if it was easier to clear lyrics rights, I probably would've stolen the lyrics, "Why can't you see / that a life in the arts / and a life of mimicry / are the same thing?" from him for the book.

Atlas Sound, "Mona Lisa"

Chapter 3: "Write the book you want to read." I tell a story in this chapter about Atlas Sound's Bradford Cox — when he was a kid the internet didn't exist, hence no leaks, so before the new album from his favorite bands would drop, he'd record a version on his four-track of what he wanted the new album to sound like. Then when the album was released, he'd go buy the record and go home and compare his version to the real one. And what do you know, a lot of those songs became Deerhunter and Atlas Sound songs. "Mona Lisa" sounds to me like Atlas Sound doing Fleetwood Mac. Which is to say: delightful.

tUnE-yArDs, "You Yes You"

Chapter 4: "Use your hands." The cartoonist Lynda Barry says, "In the digital age, don't forget to use your digits!" and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs says about the magic of playing the ukulele, "I still can barely name the chords I'm playing when I'm playing them. It's almost this physical exercise, it's like playing with building blocks or something, this thing in your hand, and you can really toy around with it, in this way where you don't feel threatened by the instrument itself, or the need to master it."

Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Ni**as in Paris"

Chapter 5: "Side projects and hobbies are important." An important part of doing creative work is taking time to mess around, to get lost and side-tracked — it's hard to remember when you're listening to it that Watch The Throne is technically a side project! It just sounds so inevitable — I actually love it more than anything Jay-Z or Kanye have done individually. My favorite album from last year.

LCD Soundsystem, "You Wanted A Hit"

Chapter 6: "The secret: do good work and share it with people." I think any author can sympathize with James Murphy's lyrics here: "You wanted a hit / But maybe we don't do hits." No one, actually, does hits — you do the best you can and you put it out there.

Guided By Voices, "Motor Away"

Chapter 7: "Geography is no longer our master." Regardless of where you live, you have to create your own world in which to do your work, but eventually you have to leave home, you have to leave your comfort zone. I actually just left my job as a copywriter so I could travel to promote Steal Like an Artist full-time, so I get goosebumps when Bob Pollard sings these lyrics: "the time will come when you add up the numbers / and then the time will come when you motor away."

Ketty Lester, "Love Letters"

Chapter 8: "Be nice. (The world is a small town.)" As the writer Lewis Hyde says, we're initially drawn to make art because we love art...because we're fans. All fiction, in a way, is fan fiction. We want to get closer to our artistic heroes, but sometimes they're unreachable (or dead!) so we send them "love letters" in the form of our work. ("Love letters straight from my heart / keep us so near while apart.") Fun note: I'm pretty sure John Lennon ripped off the piano parts from this for his song, "God."

Iggy Pop, "I'm Bored"

Chapter 9. "Be boring. (It's the only way to get work done.)" I'm not sure Iggy Pop has a boring bone in his body, and he's pretty much made his career on ignoring every since piece of advice in this chapter, but then, he's Iggy f-ing Pop. I just love this song.

Cass McCombs, "Subtraction"

Chapter 10: "Creativity is subtraction." Often when it comes to creativity, it's not what you leave in, it's what you leave out. The White Stripes are the perfect example of this, but I ended my last Largehearted Boy playlist with them, so I'll stick with McCombs: "Subtraction / subtraction / subtraction / it's my duty and passion."

Austin Kleon and Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the book's website
excerpts from the book
video trailer for the book

BookPeople's Blog review

Art Heroes Thought Radio interview with the author
Figment interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Newspaper Blackout
Ricardo Bueno interview with the author
Unknown Jim interview with the author
Workman Publishing Blog interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists