The genesis of Austin Kleon’s new book began with an invitation to speak at a community college. In preparation for giving the talk he made a list of 10 things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out as a young artist. The talk became a hit and he expanded it into this book. The 10 things are listed on his website.
I started reading this book on the subway home from work one afternoon last week, and simply couldn’t do anything else until I was finished. The tone is just right. Never condescending. Never preachy. And the book is full of great advice. Who doesn’t like being told they should spend lots of time studying the things they love? Who doesn’t enjoy knowing that procrastination is important because artists need down time to be creative? So many things about this book will appeal to teen readers. And their parents will appreciate it too. In chapter 9 — “Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done)” – Kleon includes advice to get rest, live frugally, find a day job, and work on your art every day. Even better, he advocates stepping away from the computer and going analog.
It bears special mention that Kleon’s first book, Newspaper Blackout, was a 2011 Alex Award nomination.
Adult/High School–Kleon is known for his poetry collection Newspaper Blackout (Harper Collins, 2010). Here he offers engaging, inspiring and practical advice on becoming a successful artist, advice that applies well beyond artistic pursuits. In an open, convivial tone that conveys the thrill of pursuing a creative passion, Kleon admits in the first pages that he’s “writing to a previous version of himself” and shares a photo of himself captioned “19-year-old me could use some advice…” He begins with the premise that “nothing is original” and encourages readers to figure out what is worth stealing, to embrace influences. He does not advocate plagiarism or direct copying. Rather, he believes that studying what you love in great depth will reveal the ideas behind the art, the thought processes behind the work. Kleon makes a clear distinction between transformation or emulation and mere imitation. He encourages artists to go ahead and create, not to wait to be an expert in their field of interest, and reminds readers that in today’s world location doesn’t matter because fellow enthusiasts and mentors are online. The creative process just needs time and space–and plenty of daily hard work. Quotes by artists from Jay-Z to T. S. Eliot to Picasso are scattered throughout. The book’s small size and unusual shape catches the eye, as does the bold black-and-white cover, which is echoed in the alternating black-and-white pages within. Quirky charts, drawings, lists, and photographs break up the text. This is a quick, easily digestible read that is particularly relevant in today’s digital world.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City