Saturday, October 12, 2019

Nonfiction Spotlight: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Title: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Author & Illustrator:  Austin Kleon

Publisher: Workman Publishing

Copyright date: 2012

Target Audience: Adult with Middle Grade and Young Adult appeal

Lexile Reading Level: N/A

Major Awards Received: Top Best-Selling Book of 2012, Brain Pickings Best Art Books of 2012 , 2012 Goodreads Choice Awards Nonfiction

Book Trailer:


This is a motivational read with strong, positive messages for anyone looking to find themselves, to become an outstanding artist, to love the work they do, and it also reminds readers to take care themselves, emotionally and mentally. Kleon starts off his active title by stating that “all advice is autobiographical” (Kleon, 2012, p. 1) and that his 19-year-old self could use some advice. He had ten tips he gives readers (see image to the right).

Kleon shows us that “stealing like an artist” means letting yourself become inspired by several different artists, weaving the things you like about their work into your own so that you can create your own unique voice and purpose. “Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done” (Kleon, 2012, p. 48). He also has a lot of other really great advice that can apply to any young reader such as, “stay out of debt” (p.121) and “marry well” (p. 133).

Other features of the book include a Table of Contents, What Now? (p. 143), Recommended Reading (p. 145), Y.M.M.V (Your Mileage May Vary) (p.147), Deleted Scenes (p. 148), and a Thank You section (p. 150).

Critique of Contents & Organization:

I love this book. I think I might be a bit biased as an aspiring author, but I really think that there is a lot of good motivational advice here that young readers can relate to, such as “you are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences” (Kleon, 2012, p. 11) and “you’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with… your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by” (p. 13-14).

In chapter 2, Kleon states, “if I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started being creative, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are” (2012, p. 27). This is a huge message to readers of any age and any potential career field. Don’t wait to live your life or do the things you want to do. Just do it. Live life before it’s over.

This book makes for a quick read with short text sections, lots of hand drawn graphics, quotes from famous people about their successes at being creative, and hand lettered chapter titles. It reminds me a lot of a blog format. The extra sections of the book (mentioned in the summary help add to Kleon’s message about how to take care of yourself and move forward with the positive life readers are seeking for themselves. For example, the What Now? Section has several mental health suggestions (like “go for a walk”, “take a nap”, and “get yourself a calendar” (Kleon, 2012, p.143)) along with creative suggestions. My personal favorite, however, is “go to the library” (p.143).

Some readers may find the social media or blog lay out of the book to be less traditional then they’re used to—and that’s okay. I think it’s this layout that will help reach the teen and middle grade readers the most. It’s a motivational self-help book geared toward a digitally driven audience of future artists.

Reasons to Include this Title in Your Library Collection:

This is a great motivational read. With all the infographics, pulled out quotes and short chapters, it provides important, inspirational information in a format that even reluctant readers will enjoy. While it will appeal most directly to readers who are interested in creative endeavors, I think it has a lot of general advice as well that can extend beyond just those looking to become famous artists. Lastly, there are lots of use and extension activities.

Use & Extension Activities:

 To be honest, I feel like the What Now? (Kleon, 2012, p. 143) section of Steal Like an Artist makes this section super easy. Great school assignments include:

  •       Start a Swipe File: have students create a collection of ideas from other people that they find interesting or inspiring to use in future work (p.22). Take it one step further and have them “reanimate” (p. 22) one of the works they’ve swiped by using what they’ve found to create their own work.
  •          Buy a Notebook and Use It: have students record things from their daily lives that they find interesting and inspiring. This includes conversations, people watching notes, song lyrics and anything else that might inspire them later (p.21).
  •         Start Your Logbook: have students create a journal of everything they’ve accomplished in a day (p.129).
  •           Write a Fan Letter (p. 108): have students pick their favorite artist (dead or alive) and have them write a fan letter describing which work they liked best. If your student doesn’t know who to write to, Austin would love to hear from them at
  •           Discuss plagiarism (p.33)

Read Alikes: (found through Novelist Plus)

Title: Career Ideas for Kids Who Like Art
Author: Diane Lindsey Reeves
Reason: This book is designed to help young readers find out what kind of career paths they can follow based on what it is they love most about art. Goodreads calls it “highly motivational” and “filled with delightful text and playful illustrations”.  I would suggest this to younger readers over teens.

Title: So, You Want to be a Writer?: How to Write, Get Published, and maybe Even Make it Big!
Author: Vicki Hambleton and Cathleen Greenwood
Reason: This is also a career advice book written in a conversational tone, centered around becoming an author. This book is specifically geared toward teens.

Title: The Arts
Author: A. M. Buckley
Reason: This book also gives advice to young readers about what it takes to become an artist.

*All images, unless otherwise noted, were downloaded from Austin Kleon’s personal book page and used in accordance with his terms for blog use.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an excellent read! Thanks so much for sharing. This artist certainly appreciates it :)


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