How to Steal Like an Artist

Austin Kleon's presentation (via austinkleon.com)

For the flurry of appropriation court cases we’ve been in the middle of lately, artist and graphic designer Austin Kleon has an appropriate response. In a presentation titled “How to Steal Like an Artist,” Kleon explains how collaboration and inspiration, along with the global art community, break down artistic boundaries. Just tell that to Patrick Cariou.

Kleon, creator of meme-making “Newspaper Blackout” poetry and 20×200-featured artist, explains his philosophy behind art making — namely, that there are no boundaries between what you take in and what you make, and no line between inspiration and appropriation. “Stealing like an artist” means finding your influences, finding out what they like, and harvesting the artistic tree for any relevant fruit. He writes,

Steal things and save them for later. Carry around a sketchpad. Write in your books. Tear things out of magazines and collage them in your scrapbook.

It’s a hefty dose of idealism that’s refreshing to hear, but still difficult to wholly accept. Sure, saying “nothing is original” is fine, but what about when the inspiration you take comes too close to the original in a new artistic product? Where do we really draw the line between recycling and stealing? I think Kleon’s “theft” is more like adaptive reuse.

From “How to Steal Like an Artist” (image via austinkleon.com)

What Kleon has to say about artistic community is less divisive. “Invite others to wonder with you,” Kleon says. Find your creative community, online or in real life, and share — show others your work, and look at theirs. Geography no longer holds us back, so find your group online, on Twitter, through Google Reader, however you can.

Kleon might be a product of the new media age, but his methods are old school, and worth paying attention to.


  • Fellow artist and appropriator Joy Garnett writes a response to the Prince/Cariou case over at Artnet. She comes in squarely on Prince’s side, outlining how appropriation works in artistic practice.
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