Author Austin Kleon Visits SHC

Author Austin Kleon spoke at SHC on November 16 to both a schoolwide assembly as well as a smaller group of students. Here are perspectives from both a current student and a faculty member.

SHC Austin Mc Kleon Assembly November 22 8 copy

Image of 1

SHC Austin Mc Kleon Assembly November 22 5 copy

by Madison Cashin '24

Today, SHC held an assembly hosted by the author, Austin Kleon. Kleon wrote the book, Steal Like an Artist, one of three books the SHC community chose from for the 2022 summer One Book One School program.

Kleon described the process of his creative journey as a published author. We were told of the roadblocks and the experiences he shared as he grew as a journalist. Listening to this idea of taking something that can be deemed unoriginal, and making it your own, is the common trend that arose from his speech. He states, “steal from one person, that’s plagiarism, steal from 100 people, that’s research,” allowing for this separate idea to be stemmed from what it means to find inspiration in other people’s work.

There was a certain level of relatability in his words that encouraged me to understand how important not only my own thoughts are, but how authentic they can be when interpreted by your own mind. Walking out of this assembly gave students this fresh perspective on the difficulties everyone undergoes while attempting their dreams, allowing for the community to unite and realize that there are many people that experience the same things they do. One book allowed for an entire community to resonate with each other. Just a single story.

by Lucie Duffort, Instructor of English

Today, students, faculty and staff were privy to a special assembly in which Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, talked about art, life, creativity, and theft.

Steal Like an Artist, actually part of a trilogy including Show Your Work and Keep Going, is a bestselling text that encourages you to embrace the idea that no art is truly original, but the borrowing and remixing of ideas is itself a valid creative process. These days, when “everyone has a multimedia studio in their pocket,” Kleon’s ideas seem to ring true with SHC’s student body, and many chose his book amid the three proposed by the Visual and Performing Arts department as 2022’s One School One Book option.

In the Pavilion, sporting a clean-cut beard and hipster glasses, Nikes, and a charcoal button-down open to reveal a Joy Division shirt, Kleon presented a warm and familiar character. After an introduction from VPA Department Chair Spenser Morris, he won over the crowd immediately by presenting pages of a sketchbook from his 14 year-old self, including video game codes and Green Day lyrics.

He spoke of a classroom assignment to write to a person they admired, and explained that he chose Winston Smith, not the main character from 1984, but a punk rock album artist he admired who did a lot of work in collage, and inspired some of the blackout poetry Kleon was starting to do.

These collage works and blackout poems speak directly to the central theme of his book, that nothing is original, even the concept that art is theft (which he attributed to Picasso, Jobs, Vonnegut, Dylan, TS Elliot…). He traced the use of blackout or associative poetry to William S. Burroughs, to dadaist Tristan Tzara, to Benjamin Franklin’s buddy Caleb Whitford… But, Kleon challenged students to see the difference between “good” stealing, that learns, studies, and acknowledges, and “bad” stealing, that skims and emptily drags and drops.

Kleon told us that, of course, San Francisco is a favorite spot, and that places like Golden Boy Pizza in North Beach feel like the punk rock artist remixes that speak to him, and that create connections. In fact, it was after his first visit to North Beach and Golden Boy (if you are not familiar, go have a square slice immediately, by the way) that he looked up the website of Winston Smith to see if he was still around. By chance, he was, and was holding Open Studios around the corner, so Kleon got to meet his childhood artistic idol. (Along with Green Day drummer Tré Cool, but that is another story.)

In fact, twenty five years before, Smith had taken some time, but he had written back to young Kleon. He had responded with a 14-page letter including drawings and advice. That day in North Beach was, really, Kleon closing (or continuing) the loop between artists and creators, and sharing the directions his art has taken him as an adult.

In a later smaller group Q&A session with SHC students (mostly young artists, actors, musicians and writers), Kleon would tell the classroom the great secret that “adults don’t know what they are doing, they have just been doing it for longer.” The teachers there giggled. Our Secret! But in reality this principle can be taken to mean that everyone is a potential collaborator, whether in instruction or creation. Beyond what we can share with each other, there is no hierarchy in the play of tension between What Is and What Could Be.

In his diagram describing balance within art and creativity (“you should never have given me a whiteboard”), Kleon carried this idea further, highlighted the necessary tension between success (what is or has already been achieved) and discovery (what could be, what isn’t quite yet). Without walking a line between what is comfortable or already achieved, he emphasized, we can’t learn new things. For our students, he said this might mean exploring new media to expand an idea that is already percolating, setting challenges like highlighting underserved groups or under-represented ideas, or pushing themselves to pursue many passions and embrace the conversation between them. This could mean leaning on the already acquired to reimagine a new kind of art, technology, thought, business… Bouncing off what we absorb “to form something bigger and better.” To reimagine and “draw the art you want to see.”

You can read more about Austin Kleon and his writing on his website.

SHC Austin Mc Kleon Assembly November 22 1 copy

Located in the

Heart of the city