I wish I could remember who first pointed out the work of Austin Kleon to me, so I could give credit where credit is due. Alas and alack, I cannot. However, I can share some tidbits from Show Your Work!, a short book which is kind of about getting your work out there and noticed, but it’s also about how to retain your humanity and learn to do work worth noticing while you figure out how to get noticed.
From Chapter 1 – “You don’t have to be a genius.” There are many valuable tips in this chapter—as in all the chapters—but reading obituaries was one I found particularly surprising/interesting. Kleon says he reads obituaries daily and that obituaries really aren’t about death. They’re about a person’s life. Read a few and you might just decide to do something with your own life before it’s too late. There are tons of reasons to put off working on what’s really important to you. Reading obituaries is a way Kleon inspires himself to make his best contribution.
From Chapter 2 – Think process, not product. If you don’t have a fabulous portfolio of finished work to show people, just let them know what you’re up to. Document it. When you keep track of what you’re doing, you also gain the benefit of seeing your work more clearly. You may even feel encouraged by the progress you’re making.
From Chapter 3 – Share something small every day. This is a natural outgrowth of the previous chapter; the idea is to look at your work and decide what you found most interesting. Scoop up scraps of whatever you’ve worked on and shape it into some interesting bit of media—maybe photos or video—to share on your website or via some other media platform you use, like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. However, you’re eventually going to need a good domain name, which will allow you an easy venue for making what you’re sharing easier for others to find.
Chapter 4 goodie – Open up your cabinet of curiosities. Share your influences. Our tastes make us who we are. If you love something, stop thinking of it as a guilty pleasure. Own it. It will help you find your artistic tribe. Just remember to give credit where credit is due.
Chapter 5 tidbit – Tell good stories. It would be nice to think that your work speaks for itself, but in reality, people will value it more if they have a sense of what went into it. Study story structure and then share your own stories so they’re interesting enough that your audience cares about how your project turns out. This story should be true, however. Kleon cautions, “Unless you are actually a ninja, a guru, or a rock star, don’t ever use any of these terms in your bio.”
Chapter 6 – Teach what you know. If you learn how to do something, turn around and share it with others. In return, people will help you consider things you hadn’t thought of before, thus teaching you and renewing the cycle.
Chapter 7 bit – Don’t turn into human spam. Or as my sainted mother used to say when Bro, Sis, or I talked about ourselves too much, “Give your ears a chance.” Listen to others, learn from them, and support them by telling others about their work. If you want fans, be a fan.
Chapter 8 – Learn to take a punch. I’ll have to see how this one goes; it seems like it will be the most challenging for me. Maybe, as Kleon suggests, I’ll get better at it with practice. He advises you to relax, breathe, keep putting work out there, roll with the punches, protect your vulnerable areas, and keep your balance. This chapter, like all the others, is one I can’t possibly do justice to with a summary. Read the actual book for suggestions on putting his advice into practice.
Chapter 9 – Sell out. Get over the idea that getting paid for your work somehow makes you less of an artist. Michelangelo got paid for painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, for Pete’s sake. Enjoy the fact that you get paid to do the kind of work you love; that financial support provides you with the opportunity to continue growing, learning, and doing more work.
Chapter 10 – Stick around. If you want to do something, keep doing it no matter whether it looks like you’re a success (don’t rest on your laurels) or failure (don’t quit). Focus on improving your weak areas for the next project. Take a break if you need to. Just don’t forget to get back to it.
In addition to the advice within each chapter, I especially appreciated the bibliography, his list of suggestions for what to do next, and some rough-draftiness that he unflinchingly shared at the end of the book.
As soon as I get through a few other books I’m reading, I plan to delve into Steal Like An Artist, another book by Austin Kleon. In the meantime, I’ll just dip into his web site, http://austinkleon.com, for the fun of it and—who knows?—maybe some inspiration.