I’m kind of weird. My creative outlets are the fruition of my bizarre and intricate imagination. If I’m not able to express my creativity in a form I enjoy, I tend to become very emotionally imbalanced. It isn’t pretty at all. Without my outlets, I feel like I’ve lost something dear to me, but I didn’t realize it until recently.
When I returned to my creative outlets, it was as though one of my chakras was blocked. I wasn’t able to come up with anything, and anything I did think of I discarded because I didn’t think it was original enough. Queue the discovery of Steal Like an Artist. In Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist, he provides the keys to exactly what it takes to create awesome things, but it’s not what you may think.
Artists are frequently told to think outside the box, be creative or seek originality. These are not entirely incorrect but they neglect a key point- nothing is original. Kleon says that great artists understand that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work just builds upon something that came before it. In other words, great artists simply steal material they like from previous artists and emulate them into their own personal style. You should definitely give this book a read, but in the meantime, here are the main take aways!
Find Something Worth Stealing
Search for things that touch your heart and soul and make a note to use those for inspiration. Collect anything that kicks your imagination into gear, makes you feel good or makes you think. It can be anything from movies, novels, poems, photography, fashion, etc.
Is there a particular artist who you already have in mind as your inspiration? Perfect. However, it is better to have a conglomerate of inspiration than just a single artist. After all, you don’t want to just take from a single artist. Create a tree of heroes. Find out who your hero gets their inspiration from. Then research where they got their inspiration from. What other artists are similar to your heroes? Where did they get their inspiration? It’s good to deeply understand where you are getting your inspiration, because you don’t just want to imitate others, you want to see what they see and understand the thinking behind their art. That will help you to create your own.
Emulate Your Heroes
So at some point in the creative process you’ll need to create your own personal style. Use what you know about your heroes and create something that is uniquely your own. Ask yourself “Is there something the artist missed? What should they make?” Then make that. Take the inspiration from your heroes and make what you would want to see or hear yourself. What is the kind of music you LOVE hearing? Take that and apply that to your inspiration.
Creativity pairs well with boredom. You may notice that when you’re bored you come up with some interesting ideas, so let yourself be bored. Wash dishes, take a walk, iron clothes, organize your closet, and stare out the window. Just let your mind wander and write down all those interesting ideas you encounter. Creative people aren’t always leading excitingly cinematic lives. We have day jobs, pets and families just like everyone else. The only difference is that creative people fill every moment they aren’t working with something creative.
I know this sounds counter-productive, but creativity also works best with constraints. There is nothing more paralyzing than having an infinite amount of options. If you have fewer options, your creativity can really get to work! So set some boundaries before you start working. Pick a theme, topic, or some constraint that will help focus your work so that you’re not paralyzed by the possibilities.
Don’t Seek Validation
Some people create amazing things but almost never share them because they’re afraid of what people will think of them. As Keon puts it “Validation is for parking”. Your job is create what you love and share it with others. You can’t control who is going to like it and who isn’t, just embrace those who appreciate your work as they come, but don’t rely on their compliments. You’re doing this for you.