Anant Jain

Steal Like an Artist

Book Review

Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED Conference, sums up this book well in just one word: “Beautiful”. It’s a very short read, but it’s full of more wisdom than most books I’ve read. What follows is a collection of my favorite lines straight from the book.

Steal like an artist

This is the key message of the book. Nothing is original. All creative work builds on what came before. An artist is a collector of ideas that they really love. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose to be influenced by. Keep a notebook and save your thefts for later.

Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started

You’re ready to start making stuff today. Start copying what you love — we’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism. There’s a difference between the Good Theft and the Bad Theft:

Write the book you want to read

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use — do the work you want to see done.

Use your hands

The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out in the world, but it’s not really good for generating ideas. If you have the space, set up two workstations, one analog and one digital. For your analog station, keep out anything electronic.

Side projects and hobbies are important

Take time to get bored. It’s the side projects that really take off — the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when magic happens. Don’t throw any of yourself away, and practice productive procrastination.

Do good work and share it with people

It’s a two-step process. Step one, “do good work”, is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Know you’re going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better. Step two, “share it with people,” was really hard up until about ten years ago or so. Now, it’s very simple: “Put your stuff on the Internet.”

Geography is no longer our master

You don’t have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in. To say that geography is no longer our master isn’t to say that place isn’t important. Where we choose to live still has a huge impact on the work we do. At some point, when you can do it, you have to leave home. You can always come back, but you have to leave at least once.

Be nice (The world is a small town)

Find the most talented person in the room and go stand next to them. Hang out with them. Try to be helpful. Quit picking fights and go make something instead. Say nice things about people you admire and write public fan letters. The important thing is that you show your appreciation without expecting anything in return.

Be boring (It’s the only way to get work done)

It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don’t have the energy if you waste it on other stuff. Take care of yourself. Keep your day job and stay out of debt. Get yourself a calendar and keep a logbook. Find the right partner.

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” — Gustave Flaubert

Creativity is subtraction

Choose what to leave out. The right constraints can lead to your very best work. Creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out. Choose wisely. And have fun.

This is #28 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.