Stealing Like An Artist

Steal Like An Artist is a book by Austin Kleon.  I haven’t read it (yet), but I did enjoy looking through Kleon’s blog post covering ideas he wrote about in that book.  While Kleon is writing from the point of view of an author and visual artist, I find much of his advice to be helpful for composers and musical improvisers too.

Number 1 on his list, look at other works closely, take what you like and leave behind the rest.

Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The honest artist answers, “I steal them.”

He goes on to make some excellent points on imitation and originality that I’ve heard from many musicians.  The gist of his argument here is that creative artists take ideas from whatever they happen to find interesting but work putting them into an original context.  Clark Terry has a famous quote that sums up this concept in three words.

Imitate, assimilate, innovate.

The second point Kleon makes in his post is about the importance of getting started and simply doing what you want even if you’re not certain yet where that will take you.  He sums up this advice:

Fake it ’til you make it.

I love this phrase. There’s two ways to read it: Fake it ‘til you make it, as in, fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want, etc. Or, fake it til’ you make it, as in, pretend to be making something until you actually make something. I love that idea.

From my point of view as a composition teacher, I’ve noticed that probably the most common cause of composer’s block is simply the student spends more time being critical of their work rather than simply writing music.  It’s easy to be judgmental about or own work, but if you try to make every composition your masterpiece you’ll never end up completing anything.  For me the composing isn’t so much about the end goal of a completed piece and more about the process.  The music I end up with is simply a snapshot of where I happened to be at that particular time.  If it’s not what you envisioned that’s OK, just keep going and move on to the next one.

Steal Like An Artist looks like an interesting read.  I’ll have to look for it in my local library or maybe order it.  Now if I could just finish the stack of books that I have already…

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