Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Writing is a kind of banditism

Full title: Steal Like An Artist. 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Author: Austin Kleon
Genre: Non Fiction
Attributes: 160 pages, paperback
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company(2012)
On the scale of Zero to OneZero (i.e. borrowed from a friend)

Austin Kleon’s book runs on clever aphorisms like a vehicle properly fueled. Its major purpose is to cause reflection on common assumptions about writers and the way they work. The issue of plagiarism stands out, because it challenges the understanding of what is and what isn't ‘legal’ in this thing we call writing. It soon becomes apparent that a writer should have no real concerns about legality when it comes to appropriation, because writers are 'illegal' players by definition. Intertextuality, the texts cross-communicate, simply blows away any distinction between any two or more texts, and points out the fact that writing is really, at its core, re-writing. A quote from André Gide relativizes everything very nicely:
"Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything needs to be said again."
Kleon pronounces his sentences without restraint, because the topic accepts no beating around the bush. When done properly, plagiarism is not a horse of the apocalypse, as the schoolmasters teach their pupils, but rather the engine that makes the whole business of writing move forward.
As it befits a book about appropriation, Steal Like An Artist is intensely peppered with quotes. They come not only from writers, but from artists of various kinds and temperaments: Marcel Duchamp (of course), Picasso (obviously), Jim Jarmush (why not?), David Bowie (yes, of course); plus many-many others (Ecclesiastes and Kobe Bryant included). All these confirm the core of Kleon’s claim that creativity is re-creation. And to ease the tensions:
“You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.”
Since the book is also a manual for the writer-to-be, various lessons are condensed into bite-size aphorisms that read as quickly as they pass before one’s eyes. They clarify things about artistic curiosity, about auto-didacticism, about Google and the virtues of instant knowledge (“Don’t ask a question before you Google it.”), about the burning desire to read (“There’s magic in being surrounded by books.”), and so on.

One wonders what makes one a really good thief.
Source: Bless This Stuff
To make things truly clear, here’s what Kleon means by copying: not plagiarism pure and simple, but the forge in which one’s talent is wrought; to get there, one needs to borrow a little, but only so much as to give oneself a jumpstart. And that is truly needed, since there are more chances to go unnoticed by the Empire of Letters than chances to grow into Salman Rushdie:
“There is a kind of fallout that happens when you leave college. The classroom is a wonderful, if artificial, place: Your professor gets paid to pay attention to your ideas, and your classmates are paying to pay attention to your ideas. Never again in your life will you have such a captive audience. Soon after, you learn that most of the world doesn’t necessarily care about what you think.”
And that should set the record straight. As for a trailer, because they're always nice (especially when they are the work of artists), here's Kleon's. Nice!