If you’ve read the bestselling “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon you’ll know what a positive inspiration he can be. He has a way of breaking down the work of living a creative life into simple, easy-to-accomplish ways. His writing is peppered with his whimsical cartoons, newspaper “blackout poems”, and quotes from creative types of all stripes.
If you’re designing your own personal evolution, you’ll want to check it out. His weekly newsletter is a quick hit of inspiration each Friday too.
If you’re on your way, but aren’t quite sure how to keep at your work and future self, especially when the world has got you down, his new book is here to bring things back into perspective. “Keep Going” is a set of uplifting strategies to, well, keep going. Tomorrow’s another day. Another day to go at your dreams all over again.
The book is written from the point view of an artist and his work, though Kleon reminds his reader that art and creativity come in many forms. Reinvention, transformation and transitions require an open mind and sometimes a few tricks to fool your mind into seeing things in a new light. This book is full of all of that in a playful style that makes the lessons fun to learn and try out.
Here are a few observations from the book:
Everyday is Groundhog Day: If you remember the movie, Bill Murray’s character got stuck in a day and couldn’t find his way to the next day. Kleon uses the cult film as a reminder to make today count.
Build a Bliss Station: Inspired by Joseph Campbell, Kleon describes how a bliss station and “bliss time” can transform your creative practice. It might be a kitchen table when the kids are asleep, or a room or studio in your house. But it’s a place and time to shut off the noise of the world and do your own thing. The discipline of finding your way to your creative place regularly has the benefit of casting off creative blocks and frustration because you always know tomorrow you’ll be right back to work.
Forget the Noun, Do the Verb: How you define yourself? Maybe a painter, a writer, an entrepreneur. These titles are a trap. They’re limiting. It doesn’t leave room for evolution. Instead the book suggests instead you just do the task, the painting, a paragraph, a sales call. That’s where the evolution happens. In the doing, not the defining.
Make Gifts: Stuck in a rut. Make a gift for someone who inspires you. The mind-shift of thinking what is important to them and how they’ve impacted your creativity often results in a fresh look. Suddenly what you’re creating doesn’t have a number or follower count to it. The nice by-product is your friend gets a little something.
The Ordinary + Extra Attention = Extraordinary: Having a creative habit doesn’t always produce masterpieces, they are often found in ordinary objects and ideas assembled in new ways. As he puts it “Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.” He also recommends drawing as a way to take in information and that “drawing is really an exercise in seeing, you can suck at drawing and still get a ton out of it.”
Slay the Art Monsters: In these divided times, the last thing the world needs are creative prema donnas, or “monsters.” The days of creative geniuses who are celebrated for their bad behavior is dead, writes Kleon. “The world doesn’t necessarily need more great artists. It needs more decent human beings.”
You are Allowed to Change Your Mind: Much of modern life demands a stated definition of who you are. In certain circles it’s known as your personal “brand.” Those dictates are limiting and don’t allow for much serendipity or experimentation. He writes, “But hope is not about knowing how things will turn out—it is moving forward in the face of uncertainty.” Another tip is reading from the past. The same challenges have confronted people for centuries. Crack open a dusty old book and see how other generations found their way.
When in Doubt, Tidy Up: This guidance from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s “Oblique Strategies,” a set of cards meant to trigger new perspectives during the creative process. Kleon is no Marie Kondo. In fact he encourages some chaos in your creative space. He follows an approach from his friend John T. Under “Keep your tools organized and your materials messy.” The thinking goes that you want to make things tidy, to be able to work fluently when you are inspired. You also get great inspiration from the process of this loose organizing. Tidying up isn’t limited to the physical space. Naps are encouraged as ways to tidy up the mind as well.
Demons Hate Fresh Air: Get outside. Unplug your devices. Take a long walk. Put your life on “airplane mode.” Forcing yourself when you’re stuck doesn’t work. A respite can put things in perspective. He writes, “Art requires the full use of our senses. Its job is to awake us to our senses. Our screens, on the other hand have made us lose our senses and our sense. Their overall effect has been a kind of spiritual numbing.
Plant Your Garden: The trophy. The finished thing. The forward motion shouldn’t always be the goal. Slow down and pay attention to the rhythms and cycles of your creative output, learning to be patient in the “off-seasons.” He concludes,
Our lives, too, have different seasons. Some of us blossom at a young age; others don’t blosson until old age. Our culture mostly celebrates early successes, the people who bloom fast. But those people often wither as quickly as they bloom. It’s for this reason that I ignore every “35 under 35” list published. I’m not interested in annuals. I’m interested in perennials. I only want to read the “8 over 80” lists.