As Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist, writes on his blog, for artists or those looking for inspiration generally, you can’t always rely on your own family, friends or upbringing to give you the tools you need. Instead, you “must establish your own artistic genealogy”.
The best way to do this is to immerse yourself in the inspirations of the people who inspire you, or who you admire.
“There are many ways to discover and construct your own lineage,” writes Kleon. “The easiest is what Alan Jacobs calls ‘swimming upstream.’ You pick some artist or writer you love, and you find out who influenced them.”
The idea is the cornerstone of Kleon’s aforementioned book, in fact, in which he writes:
Chew on one thinker — writer, artist, activist, role model — you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.
Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff.
It’s easy to do this with people who inspire you today: There’s likely a podcast episode or two, TED Talk, blog or Twitter thread in which they discuss their work or creative practices. And there’s never been more information available via a quick Google search (or more in-depth internet black hole) than there is now. We also have this piece on researching like a journalist when Google doesn’t give you what you want.
The better way to think about the process of finding your creative mentors though, is summed up in the next chapter of Kleon’s book. “Don’t worry about doing research. Just search.”
Climbing Your Own Family Tree | Austin Kleon