The Book in One Sentence

“Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon advocates for creators to share their creative process openly, embrace the digital realm, and foster a collaborative and supportive creative community, challenging the notion of keeping artistic endeavors hidden until they are considered ‘perfect.’

Book Summary

The book is a compelling guide that encourages creators to break free from the shackles of traditional secrecy and instead embrace transparency, collaboration, and sharing in the digital age. The book offers a treasure trove of insights, examples, and actionable advice that cater to both established artists and budding creators.

  1. Sharing the Creative Process:

One of the fundamental concepts Kleon emphasizes is the value of sharing the creative process. He suggests that by showcasing the evolution of an idea, creators can offer their audience a unique perspective. He states, “In the digital age, the question is not ‘Can I use this image?’ but ‘Can I share this image?'” This shift from mere usage to sharing highlights the need to involve others in the journey. He illustrates this idea through his own experience with his blackout poetry. He started posting his poems online and subsequently gained a following interested in his creative process. By sharing both the process and the product, he created an engaged audience.

  1. The Digital Age as an Asset:

Kleon champions the role of the internet and digital platforms in the creative process. He writes, “The only way to find your voice is to use it.” This underscores the importance of online platforms for creators to not only present their work but also engage with their audience. Kleon’s concept of the “Scenius”—the idea that creative communities, rather than isolated geniuses, drive artistic progress—illustrates the potential of the digital age to foster collaboration. He cites examples like Flickr and GitHub, where communities of photographers and coders respectively have flourished by sharing their work and collaborating with others.

  1. The Generosity Economy:

Kleon introduces the notion of the “Generosity Economy,” where sharing knowledge and insights is invaluable. He states, “The act of sharing is one of the most unselfish things you can do.” By providing value to others, creators can build genuine connections and networks. The story of artist Chuck Close’s willingness to teach and mentor younger artists exemplifies this concept. Close’s generosity in sharing his techniques and experiences has not only enriched the artistic community but also contributed to his own growth as an artist.

  1. Learning Out Loud:

An intriguing concept throughout the book is “Learning Out Loud.” Kleon contends that sharing the process of learning can be immensely inspiring to others. He emphasizes, “The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.” He cites the example of artist Julia Rothman, who documented her journey to learn to draw on her blog. This documentation not only held her accountable but also allowed others to learn alongside her and witness her progress.

  1. Embracing Rejection and Criticism:

Kleon addresses the fear of rejection and criticism, which often prevents creators from sharing their work. He advises, “You’re not a genius, you’re a worker. Flannery O’Connor wrote, ‘I have to write to discover what I am doing.'” By acknowledging that creating is a process of exploration and growth, creators can overcome the fear of judgment. He recounts a story of the famous composer Igor Stravinsky, who would deliberately write bad music to free himself from the pressure of perfection.

10 Key Takeaways

  1. Share the Process: Embrace the idea that sharing your creative process, including sketches, drafts, and failures, is just as valuable as sharing the final product. This transparency can engage your audience and provide insights into your journey.
  2. Digital Platforms are Vital: Utilize the power of the internet and digital platforms to showcase your work. Online platforms offer a global reach and allow you to connect with a wider audience than traditional methods.
  3. The Generosity Economy: Adopt a mindset of generosity by sharing your knowledge, insights, and experiences. This can foster a sense of community and collaboration that benefits both you and others.
  4. Scenius over Genius: Recognize that creative progress often thrives in collaborative communities, or “scenius,” rather than relying solely on individual genius. Engaging with others can lead to unexpected growth and new perspectives.
  5. Learn Out Loud: Embrace the concept of “learning out loud.” Instead of waiting until you’re an expert, share your journey of learning and growth. This vulnerability can inspire others and create a sense of authenticity.
  6. Embrace Rejection and Criticism: Understand that rejection and criticism are natural parts of the creative process. Use them as opportunities for growth and improvement rather than allowing them to deter you.
  7. Make the Process Visible: Document your creative journey through various media, such as blogs, social media, or videos. By making your process visible, you invite others to learn from your experiences and connect with your work.
  8. Find Your Voice Through Use: Discover your creative voice by actively creating and sharing. Your voice will develop as you consistently engage in your chosen medium.
  9. Showcase Small Projects: Don’t hesitate to share small or incomplete projects. These can serve as starting points for new ideas and conversations, fostering engagement and feedback.
  10. Build Authentic Connections: Focus on building authentic relationships with your audience. Interact with your followers, respond to comments, and engage in conversations that go beyond self-promotion.

Chapter Summary

Chapter 1: You Don’t Have to Be a Genius

Kleon challenges the myth of the solitary genius and introduces the concept of “Scenius” — the idea that creative communities drive progress. He emphasizes the value of sharing your influences and inspirations.

Example: Kleon shares how influential artists like David Bowie openly acknowledged their inspirations and collaborators, fostering a sense of shared creativity.

Chapter 2: Think Process, Not Product

This chapter encourages creators to focus on sharing their creative process rather than obsessing over the final product. Kleon suggests that documenting and sharing your progress can engage your audience and demystify your work.

Example: The author narrates his journey with blackout poetry, demonstrating how sharing his process online led to unexpected interest and connections.

Chapter 3: Share Something Small Every Day

Kleon advocates for consistent sharing, even if it’s a small snippet of your work. Regular sharing helps you establish a presence and build an engaged audience over time.

Example: He mentions how author and artist Keri Smith shares daily glimpses of her creative life on Instagram, building a community around her work.

Chapter 4: Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities

In this chapter, Kleon advises creators to share their influences, references, and interests. Creating a “cabinet of curiosities” not only invites your audience into your world but also sparks new ideas.

Example: He cites designer Stefan Sagmeister, who displayed his collection of objects and inspirations in a gallery, offering a unique insight into his creative process.

Chapter 5: Tell Good Stories

Kleon highlights the power of storytelling in making your work relatable and engaging. He suggests sharing the story behind your work, whether it’s a personal experience, a challenge you’ve overcome, or a lesson you’ve learned.

Example: He shares how Pixar regularly shares the challenges they face during filmmaking, fostering a deeper connection between the studio and its audience.

Chapter 6: Teach What You Know

This chapter emphasizes the value of sharing your knowledge and expertise. Teaching others not only positions you as an authority but also contributes to a supportive creative community.

Example: The author describes how artist Chuck Close willingly mentored younger artists, contributing to both their growth and his own legacy.

Chapter 7: Don’t Turn into Human Spam

Kleon warns against using social media solely for self-promotion. Instead, he advocates for genuine interactions and meaningful conversations that go beyond simply showcasing your work.

Example: He mentions how writer Neil Gaiman engages with his followers on Twitter, responding to their questions and creating a sense of community.

Chapter 8: Learn to Take a Punch

In this chapter, Kleon addresses the fear of criticism and rejection. He advises creators to develop resilience and use criticism as a tool for improvement.

Example: He shares the story of composer Igor Stravinsky, who wrote intentionally bad music to overcome the fear of rejection and focus on experimentation.

Chapter 9: Sell Out

Kleon discusses the balance between maintaining artistic integrity and making a living from your work. He suggests that embracing the idea of “selling out” can be liberating and allow you to reach a broader audience.

Example: He mentions how The Rolling Stones initially faced criticism for commercializing their music but eventually found a balance between artistic expression and commercial success.

Chapter 10: Stick Around

The final chapter encourages creators to persevere and remain dedicated to their craft. Kleon advises against seeking instant fame and instead emphasizes the importance of longevity and continued growth.

Example: He refers to Vincent van Gogh, who only sold a single painting during his lifetime but continued to create and evolve as an artist.

Similar Books

  1. “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon: This is another book by the same author that focuses on sparking creativity, embracing influences, and finding your unique voice.
  2. “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert: Gilbert, the author of “Eat Pray Love,” explores the nature of creativity, inspiration, and the courage to pursue your artistic passions.
  3. “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield: Pressfield discusses the obstacles that creatives often face, such as resistance and self-doubt, and offers strategies to overcome them.
  4. “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All” by Tom Kelley and David Kelley: The Kelley brothers, experts in design and innovation, provide insights and exercises to help readers tap into their creative potential.
  5. “Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations” by Dan Roam: Roam offers guidance on effectively communicating ideas and stories through visuals, making it a valuable resource for creative professionals.
  6. “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown: While not solely focused on creativity, Brown’s exploration of vulnerability and courage can be highly relevant to sharing one’s creative work openly.
  7. “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland: This book delves into the psychological and emotional challenges artists face and provides guidance for overcoming them.
  8. “Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age” by Jeff Goins: Goins dispels the “starving artist” myth and offers practical advice on how creatives can thrive in the modern world.
  9. “The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion” by Elle Luna: Luna explores the difference between what we should do and what we must do, encouraging readers to follow their true passions.
  10. “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott: While focused on writing, Lamott’s book is a humorous and insightful guide to the creative process and the challenges of bringing ideas to life.