When asked to give a talk to a group of community college students, Austin Kleon based it on ten things he wished someone had told him about being creative when he was in college. When that same talk was posted on his blog, it quickly spread around the web and the seeds of a book were planted. With added writing and illustration the final product, Steal Like an Artist, was published in early 2012. Since then, it has been called a “manifesto for creativity in the digital age” and became a New York Time bestseller.
This wasn’t Kleon’s first time around the book-publishing block. After experiencing a case of writer’s block after finishing college, he began taking newspaper articles and blacking out most of the words, leaving poetry in his wake. A book of that poetry was published in 2010, and he still maintains a blog where readers can send in their own newspaper blackout works.
Austin Kleon, writer of the New York Times bestseller Steal Like an Artist and the equally entertaining Newspaper Blackout will be giving an artist talk at UNT on the Square on April 11th from 4-6pm. His work will hang in the gallery until May 6th.
Ahead of his visit to Denton, we got the Austin-based artist and writer to answer a couple of questions about his work, hobbies and new life as a father. For more information about his work (and a little bit more about his life), visit his website at austinkleon.com
Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?
My days have changed dramatically since my son was born — I’m basically a part-time stay-at-home dad, part-time writer. It’s not very glamourous. I get up around 7, shower, cook my wife breakfast, and get her out the door to work. Then I watch my son for a few hours, and usually he’ll go down for a little nap, so during that I’ll meditate and make a blackout poem. Then I feed my son a bottle and listen to a podcast. Then we hang out some more and play, then I try to put him down for one more nap, which is when I answer email. My wife gets home around 1:30, so we eat lunch, then I write from 2-5. I guard this time with my life. I don’t answer email, I don’t answer the phone. Then dinner, walk around the neighborhood, bath, and we put my son down for bed. Sometimes we’ll sneak another hour of work in, but most of the time we just watch TV or read and fall asleep. Rinse and repeat.
You talk about finding one’s voice – I’m curious to know how you found yours – or if you think it’s a never-ending search.
The poet Billy Collins says you start out by imitating 6-8 of your heroes until eventually they all sort of blend together and you can’t tell the individual sources anymore, and that’s your voice. That’s exactly how I learned and how I suggest people go about learning in Steal — you identify your heroes, you try to emulate them, and eventually you find your own thing.
You’re kind of a triple threat – writer, artist, poet – is there one that you are most comfortable as? Which do you have to work at hardest?
Poet is the one I feel least comfortable with. I like to call myself a “writer who draws.” I put it that way because I’m really trained as a writer, and I think of myself primarily as a writer, but I have this ability to draw and communicate visually. All my art has words in it, you know? Add to that, I’m also comfortable with code and manipulating the internet. So, if my work is a venn diagram, it’s pictures, words, and the web.
You post a lot of music on your blog. Do you find that music helps your creative process, or is it just good background noise?
Like a lot of writers, I’m a wannabe musician. I took classical piano when I was a kid, wrote songs and played in bands when I was a teenager. So music is a big passion of mine, but it’s a hobby — it’s not something I’m interested in doing professionally. I find that the creative process really ends up being similar for a lot of the arts, so listening to music, reading about musicians and songwriting and recording can be just as illuminating to me as say, reading an interview with a writer.
How do you know when a body of work is complete? After a series is complete, what strategies do you use to create continuity across the spectrum of your work?
Paul Valery said “work is never finished, only abandoned.” I’m not sure you ever know when you’re done with work — I think for me, I abandon work when more interesting work comes around to take its place. But the new work usually comes from something that was lacking or you didn’t accomplish in the old. I like to practice what I call “chain-smoking”: I like to light one project with the end of the next.
As for continuity, I really try not to worry about it. I figure it all comes from me, that’s the continuity.
Do you have a strong creative community and support system in Austin? And how does having (or not having) that community affect your creative process?
I like Austin, but not for its creative community, necessarily. People always sound shocked when I say that, but I like Austin because it’s cheap, people are nice, and there’s good food. I hate the weather.
Most of my creative community is online. I’m pushed by my peers in other cities who are doing interesting work and sharing it on the web. It’s always sort of been that way. For one thing, I’ve always had a day job or a kid, so I haven’t had a lot of time to interact with an “IRL” community. There are tons of people doing interesting things in this town, but I don’t necessarily get to meet a lot of them, because I’m busy doing my thing, being with my family. But I do try really hard to meet my online friends when I’m traveling. I’ve met a lot of good people that way. It’s happened in Austin, too — I meet people online, then we meetup for drinks.
Follow up question: What, if anything, can a city do to help foster its creative community?
Affordable housing. That’s not a very sexy answer, but it’s true. If we had universal healthcare and affordable housing, people could be more creative, sleep better at night, and live longer.
You and your wife recently had your first child. How has your process/product changed since becoming a father?
Way way way way way less time to work. (See above!)
Most people write or make art as a hobby but that is your job. So, what are your hobbies?
(Haha, again, see above.)
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