Book Summary — Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Scott Broughton
3 min readMar 18, 2021


A short & sweet book summary, for my own use as much as anyone else’s. Limited to 30 minutes.

✅ The Book in 3 Sentences

  • All new ideas are amalgamations of things that have come before. Nothing is truly original, so you shouldn’t feel bad about taking inspiration from others.
  • Your job as a creative is to collect good ideas, and steal anything that’s worth stealing. The bigger your catalogue, the more things you have to be influenced by. Create a “Swipe File”.
  • We’re all part of a “creative lineage”. Like a family tree, every idea was influenced by those that came before. Learn from your creative lineage, and then start your own branch.

💫 General Impressions

A collection of 10 pieces of advice on how to be more creative in work and life. It’s short enough to read in one sitting and has absolutely no filler. I liked the first half better, with novel ideas about being part of a “creative lineage”. The second half teetered off a bit into vague advice on how to live your life (some of which I didn’t agree with). However, the book actually invites you to pick and choose the bits of advice that you want to take, so I didn’t feel too bad about skip-reading some parts — “Some advice can be a vice. Feel free to take what you can use, and leave the rest.”

⭐️ Overall rating

4/5 Stars.

🕵️‍♂️ How I Found It

Austin Kleon is a well known name in creative circles, and this book is often cited as being a must-read. It often comes recommended alongside Kleon’s other book “Show Your Work.”

😀 Who Should Read It?

  • Anyone with a creative job, pass-time or hobby. Especially people struggling to get started, having trouble finding inspiration, or people who can’t figure out how to fit creativity into their day.
  • Anyone looking for a quick read — this is a 1 hour job. A good one for the bookshelf.

💭 Things That Stuck With Me

  • The idea of a creative lineage, or “idea family tree”. In my work, I’ve sometimes felt bad that I might be taking too many ideas from others. The reality is that all creative work is built upon foundations and ideas that have already been laid, in the past.
  • When it comes to creative output, there is no “good” or “bad”. There are only things worth stealing and not worth stealing.
  • Never feel like you have too many hobbies — “Don’t sacrifice passion”. All of your different passions/hobbies feed into your work, and that unique combination of influences is what makes up you. “If you love different things, you should keep spending time with all of them. Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen.”

✏️ Quotes, Notes & Excerpts

  • On originality. “[…] when people call something ‘original’, nine times out of ten they just don’t know about the references or original sources that went into it.”
  • Using your Creative Lineage for inspiration. “Chew on one thinker […] you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three more people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up that tree as far as you can go. Once you’ve built your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.”
  • Aspiration. “You have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. You have to do the work you want to be doing.”
  • Imperfection and why copying is never actually copying. “A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve.”
  • On influence. “All fiction, in fact, is fan fiction.”
  • Not worrying about how much money you make. “My grandpa used to tell my dad, ‘Son, it’s not about the money you make, it’s about the money you hold on to.’”