If you've been paying attention to certain parts of the Web recently, you may be familiar with a rising chorus of voices talking about creativity as "remixing." The broad thesis is that creativity isn't a mystical flash of insight in the mind of a lone genius, but rather a combinatorial, collaborative process in which artists and designers consciously and gradually combine existing ideas into novel forms. Books like "The Gift", by Lewis Hyde, and video series like "Everything is a Remix", by Kirby Ferguson, champion this burgeoning idea (and are name-checked by Kleon at the end of "Artist"). But if Hyde and Ferguson are the theorists charting the contours of these new ideas, Kleon is the practitioner, the man-of-artistic-action, bringing the means and the message to the people.
"Steal Like An Artist" began as a lecture given by Kleon at Broome Community College that later emerged as a viral blog post. Kleon makes no effort to hide the fact that the blog post forms the skeleton of "Artist". But even if you've memorized the post, Kleon layers enough muscle and flesh on it that you feel like you're encountering his core ideas all over again. The same rush of discovery and energy awaits.
Kleon describes himself as "a writer that draws," and "Artist" is proof of that. He designed the book himself and his voice and style shine through. "Artist" feels unified, innovative, balanced, and, above all, intimate. The book is small, like a big cocktail napkin. It's full of illustrations by Kleon and little flourishes that keep things brisk as you read. The small size makes the book feel approachable, ready to provide a quick inspiration burst if need be. Kleon describes ten basic principles to boost your creativity. He lists them on the back cover of the book (a choice that Kindle purchasers will miss) so that they're easily referenced. It's a small touch, but emblematic of the book's careful construction.
Most importantly, "Artist" is focused on practicality. Kleon has absorbed the lessons of Hyde and Ferguson, but he wants to do more than evangelize; he wants to transform. "Artist" is stuffed with practical tips that you can adopt. In fact, there's a section at the very end of the book titled "What Now?", in which Kleon gives you a long, itemized list of things you can do *right now* to prime your creative pump.
One recent book that Kleon doesn't reference is "Where Good Ideas Come From", by Steve Johnson. "Good Ideas" is one of the best new books about spurring creativity, but it's primarily focused on principles of creativity and their historical origins. "Artist" is a perfect companion to "Good Ideas". Once you've read Johnson's book and your head is full of theory, Kleon's book comes along and gives you a good, firm (and lighthearted) kick in the pants to send you on your way. You certainly don't need to read "Good Ideas" or any other book to receive the full benefit of "Artist". It's a short, heady blast of exuberance that's guaranteed to kick-start your imagination.