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Steal Like an Artist Summary And Key Lessons

Quick Summary: Steal Like An Artist is a book by Austin Kleon that provides insights and advice on how to unlock one’s creativity. Written in a concise, engaging, and visually compelling style, the book delivers its message using a mix of quotes, images, and Kleon’s own thoughts. 

Steal Like an Artist Summary

The main premise of the book is that every creative piece is a culmination of various influences. There’s a common misconception that originality is birthed from thin air, but in reality, every artist “steals” or draws inspiration from different sources. 

This isn’t about plagiarizing. 

It’s about recognizing, admiring, and integrating elements from various inspirations. Every great artist has been influenced by someone before them. 

So, as you dive into your passions, know that it’s okay to look up to and learn from those you admire.

Starting Before Perfection

Many people wait for the “right moment” to begin, thinking they need to discover their unique style or voice first. But the truth is, our voice and style develop as we create. 

At first, you’ll find yourself mimicking your heroes. That’s okay. Over time, with continuous practice and exposure to diverse influences, your unique style will emerge. 

It’s all about doing, experimenting, failing, and learning. With every project, you come one step closer to finding what makes you unique.

Creative Environment and Habits

Our environment often shapes our creativity. 

While digital tools like laptops are powerful, they can sometimes stifle raw creativity. Engaging in hands-on activities, using pen and paper, or even traveling can provide a fresh perspective. It’s also vital to have side projects – things you do out of pure love, without any pressures. 

These projects often spark the most significant innovations. And remember, in today’s digital world, geography is no barrier; you can be inspired by and collaborate with people worldwide.

Community and Sharing

Being creative doesn’t mean you work in isolation. It’s about sharing, learning, and growing with others. 

By sharing your work, not only do you open up to feedback, but you also become part of a community. Surround yourself with people who inspire and challenge you. 

Don’t be the smartest in the room; instead, seek out those who can teach you something. 

Also, always approach your work and interactions with kindness and openness. 

In the digital age, our world is more connected than ever, making every interaction an opportunity for growth or collaboration.

Embracing Constraints

In the vast ocean of possibilities, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. 

But creativity often thrives under constraints. By limiting your options, you’re forced to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions. 

This is the art of creative subtraction. 

Instead of feeling bogged down by what you can’t do, focus on maximizing what you can. 

Remember, some of the most iconic works have come from limitations, so see them as challenges, not barriers.

steal like an artist sumamry

Also Read: Bird by Bird Summary and Key Lessons

Key Lessons

1. Stealing vs. Copying: The Art of Inspiration

Kleon argues that all art is derivative, but there is a big difference between outright copying and being inspired by someone’s work to create something new. 

“Stealing” in this context means taking elements from various sources and mixing them to create something uniquely your own.

This is where the concept of good theft and bad theft comes into play.

  • Good Theft vs. Bad Theft:
    • Good theft is honoring, studying, remixing, and transforming.
    • Bad theft is degrading, skimming, plagiarizing, and imitating.
Type of TheftCharacteristicsExample
Good TheftHonors the original sourceCiting your sources, giving credit
Studies deeplyImmersing in the original work
Remixes to add valueCreating a new form or interpretation
Bad TheftSkims the surfaceReplicating without understanding
PlagiarizesClaiming someone else’s work as your own
Imitates without adding valueCopy-pasting without transformation

2. Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important

The author states that you should allow yourself the time and space to have side projects and hobbies. These endeavors often serve as creative outlets and may even evolve into your main work over time. 

Hence you need to allocate the right amount of time for each project based on your passion and preference. 

Data Points:

  • Time Allocation:
    • 9 to 5 job: for income and stability
    • 6 to 10 hobby: for passion and experimentation

  • Case Studies:
Criteria9 to 5 JobSide Project/Hobby
TimeFixed, usually daytimeFlexible
ObjectiveFinancial stabilityCreative expression
Risk LevelLowHigh (but low stakes)

3. The Importance of Routine and Structure

Having a routine and structure allows you to create a safe space for your creativity. By allocating specific times and places for work, you can “show up” for your art, which is half the battle.

  • Correlation: There is a strong correlation between highly successful people and their adherence to routines.
  • Structure Types:
    • Temporal structure: Fixed time for waking, working, and unwinding.
    • Spatial structure: Designated spaces for specific activities.
ActivityRecommended Time SlotBenefit
Wake Up6:00 – 7:00 AMConsistency boosts productivity
Work8:00 AM – 12:00 PMPeak mental capacity
Unwind6:00 – 8:00 PMRest aids creative rejuvenation

Also Read: Why Does He Do That Summary and Key Lessons

4. Surround Yourself with Creativity and Eliminate “Vampires”

Kleon emphasizes the importance of curating one’s environment—both in terms of people and the spaces one spends time in. It’s crucial to surround oneself with inspiring people and work while staying away from “vampires” or those who suck away enthusiasm and positivity.

Data Points:

  • Environment Influence: People who interacted with others in creative environments were more likely to have enhanced creativity.
  • “Vampire Test”: If after hanging out with someone you feel drained and uninspired, that person might be a “vampire” and you should reconsider spending time with them.
SurroundingsEffect on CreativityAction Steps
InspiringPositiveAttend seminars, read books, engage in courses
NeutralNoneMaintain but balance with positive influences
“Vampires”NegativeReduce interaction, set boundaries

5. Embrace Boredom: The Unlikely Muse


In our hyper-connected age, boredom is often seen as something to avoid. However, Kleon suggests that allowing oneself to be bored can be a catalyst for creativity. 

Instead of always reaching for devices or distractions when there’s a free moment, allowing the mind to wander can lead to unexpected inspiration.

  • Brain Studies: Research has shown that when the brain is “idle” or “bored”, it often engages in a mode called the Default Network, which is linked to daydreaming, envisioning the future, and processing experiences.
  • Screen Time: An average person spends around 3-5 hours a day on smartphones. Cutting this time even by half can lead to pockets of “boredom” which can be creatively fruitful.
Activity StatusBrain StatePotential Benefits
EngagedActive ModeDirect problem-solving, immediate tasks
BoredDefault Network ModeCreativity, daydreaming, future planning

Final Thoughts

“Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon challenges conventional wisdom about creativity. Instead of viewing creativity as a mystical force available only to the chosen few, Kleon presents it as an accessible trait, nurtured by habits, choices, and perspectives. His ideas are an ode to the interconnectedness of human creation throughout history.

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