Author Austin Kleon first published his book Newspaper Blackout in 2010, a collection of poems made from Sharpie-tipped redactions of newspaper articles. His follow-up book, Steal Like An Artist toes the line between an advice book for creatives and a primer on combinatorial creativity. In its pages, he outlines 10 rules on how to glean inspiration from just about anything you come across, and how new originality stems from repurposing and re-engineering antiquated memes and ideas.
We sat down with the author, who is currently traveling on his #StealAcrossAmerica Tour, about the new book, his inspirations, how the social platforms like tumblr and Pinterest have changed the way creative minds work, and how Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch The Throne inspired a chapter in Steal LIke An Artist.
Interview by Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon).
Yesterday kicked off the #StealAcrossAmerica Tour which I’m assuming coincides with your recently published book?
Yeah the book was published about a month ago and we’re doing a 21-city tour, which is great and huge. I kind of named it the Steal Across America Tour just for fun (laughs) the hash tag.
Are you doing mostly colleges in this tour?
We’re doing a mix actually. We’re doing like a few colleges, a few art schools and were kind of peppering that with some really good bookstores. It’s a really nice blend.
I asked because the inspiration behind the book was that you were invited to speak at a college...
Creativity is literally taking the things in front of you... and transforming them into something that we didn’t have before.
Yeah exactly, so about a year ago I was asked to give a talk in upstate New York at a community college out there — Broome Community College in Binghamton, New York. That’s how the book started really. It started at this talk. I was kind of terrified of talking to students at that age about what they should be doing with themselves so I just figured: “well, I’ll just make a list of things that I wish I heard when I was their age.”
And I thought it was kind of over when I gave the talk. I mean, it was a nice response but when I looked back and posted the slides and the text to my blog, that’s when it kind of blew up and went viral on the web. And the book came out of that post. It’s weird now — it’s gone from a talk I gave, to a blog post of a talk, to a book expanded from a blog post, and now we’re doing talks based on this book that’s based on a blog post that’s based on a talk.
It’s very meta.
So has that made it easier to speak at colleges now that you have the book?
I don’t know — this is my first [college] since the last talk. I did a few speaking engagements in between the original talk and the book — but I haven’t really done any [colleges] yet, so I’m really interested to see how students from all over respond to it. We’re hitting a nice mix tonight. We’re doing Columbia; tomorrow we are doing Penn, and then were going to some art schools like RISD. So it will be interesting to see what the mixed reactions are. But I love talking to students. It’s fun.
We were talking about SXSW earlier, and I know there you were with Kirby Ferguson from “Everything is a Remix” and the whole notion of this book is that creativity isn’t magic, which is pretty much what he says as well. How would you describe creativity?
You know it’s funny because Jonah Lehrer, his new books says that creativity is a catch all-term, and that neuroscience tells us that our brain is doing all these different things when we are “being creative” or whatever.
To me, creativity is literally taking the things in front of you with things out in the world and the things you’ve been given and the things you’ve collected and then just combining them and transforming them into something that we didn’t have before. Very simple, like you’re given the little LEGO pieces and then you make your own castle out of it.