Steal Like an Artist – Where do you get ideas from?

A while ago, I read a great book called “Steal like an Artist”. The author Austin Kleon is a poet who also writes books about creativity and speaks to organizations such as Pixar, Google, TED talks, and The Economist.

His whole concept of collecting ideas and inspiration can be summed up in 2 stages:


His method of writing poems reflects this. He takes someone else’s artwork, the piece of writing that they’ve produced, selects the most interesting and compelling words in a newspaper article and crosses out the rest with a marker pen to form single line poetry. Picture2

Austin makes the case that every new idea is effectively a mash up or a remix of previous ideas. Every potential lyric that you could dream up has already been written. Every chord progression already used. Every film shot has been captured before.

At first, I thought this was quite a pessimistic view and in a world that’s so concerned with plagiarism, questioned the ethics of such an approach, but I began to think about this and even the bible points to this:

Ecclesiastes 1:9

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

We learn to develop our style through imitation and taking aspects of artwork from other artists. The way we learn and improve in an instrument is through playing other peoples pieces. Our church worship team plays songs that other people have written. Our drama team perform scripts that others have scripted. I learn different styles of calligraphy through imitating other calligraphers lettering. We can get better and improve our technique by using and producing our own versions of other people’s artwork. And this helps us to develop our own style, producing our own versions of others artwork.

TS Eliot says “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” —T. S. Eliot.

If our motivation is to create something meaningful and of influence, then you can remove the burden of the blank page and pressure of making something “original” and you can embrace influences instead of trying to hide them.

Looking back at our projects at church, some of our best ideas have been inspired by other’s artwork.

Picture8 Picture7 Picture6 Picture5 Picture4 Picture3

I believe that each artist is a collector, selecting the beautiful, the captivating and compelling. The more ideas you collect, the greater the pool is that you can pick from and be influenced by.


“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

(Jim Jarmusch – Film Director)

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