Further Thoughts From an Art Thief
Reviewed by Seana Graham
Following up on his provocatively titled Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative (Workman, 2012), Austin Kleon brings us a similarly designed book on getting your work out there. Although I’m not normally a big reader of works on self-promotion, a friend recently lent this to me, probably from Kleon’s advice at the end of the book, which is that you give a copy to someone who needs it. I felt duty bound to at least consider it. Regardless of its premise, it is a very engaging and artfully constructed little volume and very easy to dabble in, which is what I did at first. I think in particular it may be a good way to present information to the more visually oriented as the many illustrations, including charts and diagrams, doctored street signs and fragments drawn from crossed out texts both play on and reinforce the short text.
The book starts out with a quotation: “For artists, the great problem to solve is how to get oneself noticed.” Although you might guess that this is from someone obsessed with how to boost the number of their views on YouTube, it actually comes from Honoré de Balzac, French novelist of the nineteenth century. For better or worse, then, this particular problem has long been with us.
Kleon, however, is talking about our present era, particularly about the opportunities our digitally enhanced times afford us and the wide net we can cast through social media. One of the things I admire about this book is the etiquette for the technological age it suggests. With lines like “Don’t turn into human spam,” and a whole subsection talking about the importance of crediting others for work you use, Kleon places a high value on living an honorable life online.
His main thesis, though, is that by sharing your work frequently, you build your audience. He believes that you should be putting stuff up on your blog or website every day. He wants to banish the idea of the artist toiling away alone in the attic, and instead let others in on the process. As someone who doesn’t like to work on much of anything with an audience present, this goes a bit against my grain. But I was reminded that people like Dickens and Trollope performed this same kind of tightrope walk without a net when they serialized their novels over months of time, and James Joyce originally brought Finnegans Wake to the public in the serialized form “fragments from Work in Progress” for years before the book was published, which is pretty gutsy, considering how mystified everyone was.
In the end, though, Kleon’s book isn’t so much about self-promotion as it about connecting with the people who would be genuinely interested in your work and whose work you might be interested in in turn. His is a collaborative vision, where like-minded people seek each other out and, by exposure to each other’s ideas, create something greater than the sum of their individual parts. The internet makes this possible to degrees inconceivable in earlier eras. Kleon would be among the first to say that it is up to you what and how much of all this to embrace. But I think he would also encourage you to try and embrace at least some of it.