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“Show Your Work!” (Workman Publishing, $11.95), Austin Kleon’s most recent book, is a follow-up and companion to “Steal Like an Artist,” which was on the New York Times' "Paperback Advice and Misc." best-seller list.
“I like how it’s a Robin Hood box set,” Kleon said in a recent interview. “First you steal, then you share.”
Do what, now?
Kleon attributes the inspiration for the book “Show Your Work!” to Brian Eno, the musician and record producer who wrote about the notion of “scenius” — the idea that creativity is usually not the result of a lone individual, but rather a community of people.
“I took his idea of 'scenius,’ ” Kleon said, “and that really laid out the whole foundation of the book for me.”
Through a blog post, writer Adam Sternbergh told Kleon that “Steal like an Artist” helped him write his latest book, “Shovel Ready.”
“I was floored that here’s a book that I felt really, really strong about, and if I had even an ounce of anything to do with it, that makes me feel really happy,” Kleon said. “I think that it illustrates the principle in ‘Share Your Work’ of ‘scenius,’ the idea that you put your work into the world and, if it does what it’s supposed to do, it influences others.”
Through the idea of “scenius,” “Show Your Work!” offers an alternate way of getting noticed. Instead of networking, Kleon suggests, just be findable by consistently using the Internet to post bits and pieces of current work and ideas.
The book offers 10 concepts for sharing creative work in 10 short, easy-to-read, entertaining chapters that have titles such as “You Don’t Have to Be a Genius,” “Think Process, Not Product,” “Share Something Small Every Day,” “Teach What You Know” and “Stick Around.”
“I’m fond of saying that creativity is just a tool — a way of operating,” Kleon said. “I think my purpose with these last two books is to really get people into the idea that creativity is for everyone — that the world isn’t divided into creatives and non-creatives. Creative is not a noun.”
The author said he wants people to learn how to access their own creativity because it improves all kinds of work — not just art.
Because people are usually more interested in his book’s content, Kleon said he doesn’t usually get asked, “What is it like to write and illustrate your book?” He considers the delivery system to be as important as the content.
“The delivery system for this book really comes from my love of comics and illustrated books,” Kleon said. “I feel like I’m making picture books for adults.” He said one of the reasons people respond to his books so well is that they are very visual.
The six-inch square, 215-page book is full of clever black-and-white graphics that strike a pleasing balance between the art and the words, which complement each other nicely. It’s a quick, easy read full of practical ideas succinctly expressed.
“That’s something I’ve done very intentionally,” Kleon said. “Part of my own personal journey is to figure out a way to unite my love of visual art with my love for reading and writing. It has slowly become my trademark — art with words in it, and books with pictures in them.”
In the past six months, as another part of his personal journey, Kleon said he has begun to meditate and has found that the daily practice helps his creative work. He sets his timer for 10 minutes, and when the time is up he goes to his analog desk (no computer or electronics) and writes a poem.
“Meditating kind of fills you up in this weird way. By emptying your mind, you make room for new stuff,” Kleon said. “Meditating and attempting to write a poem are very similar in that you have to go into both without any expectations.
“I find that the more I meditate and the more I try to work on that process of just kind of letting it happen, it makes my poetry practice better, because I’m able to sit down and not try to force it, but to let things come, enjoy the process and not worry so much about the product.”
Kleon said he thinks that many creative people believe that to be great artists they have to be destructive and give up a lot of good things, including family life.
“What I’m trying to do is flip over that myth,” he said. To illustrate the point, he shared Gustave Flaubert’s advice: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
“I’m trying desperately to be a good family man and a good husband and a good father,” Kleon said. “It’s really important to me to meet great artists that I admire that also happen to be good husbands and fathers.”
His list of successful artists who are also family men includes George Saunders, Wayne White and Ed Emberley.
The author has also written “Newspaper Blackout,” a collection of poetry. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Meghan, and son, Owen. Kleon blogs at austinkleon.com.
If you go ...
What: Austin Kleon book signing
When: Wednesday, April 16, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.
Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at dramaticdimensions.com.
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