Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Steal Like an Artist

When I was in San Francisco during Spring Break, I picked up this great book at the SF MoMA.  It's called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.  It reminds me a bit of The Third Teacher in its format, only that you could flip to any page randomly and still get a lot out of it.  Both are the kinds of books that would have been cool if they had been written on cards instead of bound. 

from http://www.austinkleon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/steal-cover-3d.jpg

There are some really practical bits of advice that drive creativity like:

"Use Your Hands." 
So much of what I do is thinking and writing on my computer.  Yet my most creative times are when I get dirty and build or create something.  And apart from being with my family and friends, they are my happiest times too.  Kleon has inspired me to doodle more and write things in notebooks.  I am looking for my fountain pen because I love the feel of the nib as it skates across the surface of the paper.  I like the randomness of creating webs when I brainstorm instead of the precisely aligned organizers I create with my computer.  I've gained some efficiency by using my iPod apps, but I've lost something in my creativity by not using physical objects.  And maybe it's why I've enjoyed the design process so much.  It takes thinking and reflecting, but I am creating something tangible too.

"Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important."
I think I mentioned that I play in a jam band with some other staff members every Thursday.  When I came to the staff, I thought it was odd that there were all these musical people who didn't play together.  When we started playing together it was rough sounding, but fun.  We've grown as a band over the years, but more importantly, we've grown as a team.  A lot of the skills and attitudes we've learned as a band have carried over into our teaching: we've learned to listen to each other to bring out the best in the group; we each take the lead as the song or circumstance dictates; we've learned to persevere and laugh while doing so; and we've learned to trust each other as we take risks and go outside our comfort level (this is the same band that does "Comfortably Numb" and "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden"). 

"Don't Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started."
You can't predict which way your art, your teaching, or your life is going to go.  You can front load all you want, but until you are in the thick of it, you have still may not have any clear direction.  It is the process of working with and through these situations that form who you are, and who you are will determine how you teach and how your life is going to go.  With my design journey, I had a rough plan: have as much fun as possible until someone tells you to stop.  The thing is, I'm still having fun, and no one has really told me to stop.  The journey has been great!  It has affected my teaching and the students' learning, and I've learned things about myself that I didn't know.  It's as if I decided to use emergent curriculum on myself before I sprang it on my kids.  It's only fair.

"The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It with People."
This bit really spoke to me.  I think it's why I started this blog.  I wanted to share with other my design journey and see what the world thought.  As it turns out, the educational world seems to be heading in the same direction I am going.  It also turns out that it wouldn't really matter if no one read this blog (though I do appreciate my 7 faithful readers which will hopefully include my mom one day) because I found out that I process information best by writing.  It is the act of writing that seems to shake some things loose and consolidate others.  The evidence is that when I am with a big group of people (say, more than 2), I don't say too much.  But when I get home and I email the same two people about a thought I had and I go on for about 13 pages.  I am WAY more articulate as a writer than I am as an orator.  So in this case the act of sharing for me is a purely selfish one. 

I don't think of myself as an artist, but I definitely see the benefits of thinking like one when I am trying to tap into my creativity.  Thanks Austin!

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