It’s not nice to steal. Unless you are a poet, an artist, a musician, an architect, a writer, or you do anything that requires even a modest amount of creativity. Then it’s not IF you steal, but HOW you steal, that makes all the difference in the world.
That is the basic thesis of the fantastic book by Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.
Kleon argues that almost nothing in this world is “original” and that generation after generation of artists have built upon what has come before them, adding their own unique flavor and signature along the way, which can produce something that is both derivative, yet interestingly unique.
One of the most obvious areas where this exists is in popular music, which is littered with examples of artists who have “borrowed” from past influences.
Take almost any British band from 1962 to 1969 and you will find that they drew heavily on the chords and structures of the American blues artists. And even the least bluesy of the British Invasion bands did their share of “appropriating.” It’s said of The Beatles that if you took the vocals off of their first three albums you would swear you were listening to Buddy Holly.
However, the thing that kept most of these bands from being blatant rip-off artists was their sense of honor and homage to their musical forbearers and the ability to add something original in the process. That Kleon asserts is the right way to “steal.”
“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” —David Bowie
When I first started blogging, my biggest fear was that I would create content that was un-original. I went go out of my way to NOT read other blogs, or books, or anything else for fear that subconsciously I would repeat what others had already written in my posts. However early on I came across this blogging “secret” from Josh Brown;
Excerpting: Blogging is essentially a derivative form. From a foundational standpoint, it makes use of article excerpts the way early Hip Hop was built on soul music samples and rock song break beats. Most financial blogging is predicated on the blogger being able to tease truth and meaning out of traditional articles and reporting. At its core, financial blogging is taking third-party market data and journalism, often from mainstream outlets, and using it as the basis for further comment, disagreement, or elucidation. There is plenty of room for your original writing but if you’re not building around the constant news flow then you’ll quickly find yourself running out of things to blog about. You will also become irrelevant as the reader is looking for news reaction and analysis, not just the cloistered remarks of a disconnected Man Apart.
…and BOOM (which in itself is derivative), it hit me. The way to create an interesting blog was not to starve yourself and then hope for diving inspiration from your reclusive (and probably drunk) muse, but to consume as much as you can and then write about it in your own unique voice, adding original content where needed.
Kleon’s book just reinforces that idea in a way that is very simple yet powerful.
Hat tip to the wonderfully eclectic site Brain Pickings for bringing this book to my attention.
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