Interview with Austin Kleon (artist)

Published Oct, 2015

I must admit Austin Kleon, I love your book ‘Show your Work’, one of the reasons I love it is that you deconstruct the myth of the ‘lone genius’, what was the reception of the idea like within the art community?

I’m not sure! I only hear from individual readers. Most seem to be relieved by the idea that being a genius isn’t a prerequisite for doing interesting work.

There has been a lot of work done in the tech and science communities to disprove the notion of ‘genius’ with the most recent being the book ‘Collective Genius’ by Linda Hill, do you keep track of these developments in other fields, and do they influence how you work?

Well, I try to. The great thing about the internet is that it’s sort of inherently interdisciplinary — you’re constantly being bombarded by stuff from all over.

You made a career of sharing how you make art, your process, your hardships, and trying to encourage others to do the same. Are you aware of any artists who followed your advice?

I hear from a bunch of different folks, but I’m most aware of the artists who inspired me to write the books in the first place — folks like Lynda Barry, Wayne White, Tony Fitzpatrick, Wendy MacNaughton… the list goes on and on. It was the way they go about their work that inspired me and inspired me to share.

Many artists refuse to do social media, and blogging because they believe it will take too mach of their time. How much time did it take you to set up your social media and website and how much time do you spend on it now? Do you do it yourself now or do you get help?

It’s hard for me to answer that question because I’ve had an online presence for over a decade. I’ve never, in my career, *not* had a website. It’s just been a natural, integrated part of what I do. When I started, you had to have a little bit of technical knowledge to set up your domain and your blog, but now there are all sorts of services out there where you can be up and running in minutes. As far as how much time I spend every day, I’d say, on the whole, I spend 1–2 hours a day sharing and posting online.

What advice would you give to an artist who is also a parent?

Work before they wake up or after they go to bed.

Now you live of your art practice, but how where you able to finance yourself early on?

I had day jobs (librarian, web designer, copywriter) until I quit my job to go on tour for STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST. Now my books and my speaking gigs fund my art work.

Has it become harder or easier to make art after your commercial success?

Both. It’s harder, in that there is a lot of maintenance work — administrative tasks, phone calls, interviews — ha! — that can be distracting. On the other hand, I have way more time and energy to work now that I’m able to do it full time.

What do you think about the current trend to be ‘professional’ in the arts?

I think it’s always been sort of a terrible idea to try to make money off art.

When was the last time you stole an idea from someone?

Yesterday I was watching a talk by Dave Hickey and he started out by saying, “Here’s what I want you to take away from this talk… in case I don’t get there.” I plan on doing that from now on.

What images keep you company in the space that you work?

Right now: pictures of my wife and kids, Andy Warhol, Bill Murray, Lynda Barry, Magritte, Saul Steinberg, my great-grandfather, a photo of Ed Emberley reading one of my books, David Shrigley drawings, and a picture of David Byrne with the caption, “The word ‘intellectual’ is never meant as a compliment, is it?”

Where do you work from (a home office, a coffee shop, a studio)?

I work in the garage behind my house, sitting in front of the window air-conditioning unit.

What are you reading at the moment?

Dave Hickey’s AIR GUITAR.

You can visit Austin Kleon’s website here or follow him on instagram.

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