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Show Your Work by Austin Kleon – A Book Review

A practical and Enjoyable How-To Book for Artists

One Friday night, at around 8:00 pm, I decided that I wanted to read a book. I scanned through a few of the unread books I own but did not find anything that particularly interested me. So I went to Amazon.ca and poked around the site for a while. I could not decide what I wanted to read; whether I was interested in reading fiction or a business book or a memoir. I clicked on self-help books because a surprising number of business books can be found there. I filtered the list of 3,000 or so by selecting books with a review rating of 4 or more stars, knowing full well I might miss something interesting but at least someone else had done the work to shorten this list.

Up near the top of the list popped Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work. The contents seemed interesting, the price was under $10 and the reviews were good so I did the 1-click purchase, which is part of the reason I like Amazon for books, downloaded the book to my Kindle app on my iPad, and started reading. I read the entire book in one sitting that night and I found myself madly highlighting numerous passages. The reviews were right; it is a 5 star book.

Mr. Kleon works and lives in Austin, Texas. He is a New York Times best selling author with three books. He has a special interest in creativity and how artists make things and the processes they use. His blog posts at http://austinkleon.com are prolific and I particularly like the way he uses lists and photos and, of course, his drawings to add interest to his work.

Mr. Kleon’s premise for the book is that artists do not need to actively self-promote, instead an artist can create conditions where their work is findable. He believes the best approach to being findable is to share your work and, in particular, your process of working, with others. In a world of social media and the Internet, the barrier to establishing a place to share one’s work is low and therefore, quite doable for any artist.

What I liked about his book is Mr. Kleon provides an approachable method for becoming findable. As I read through the pages, I felt his encouragement and his permission to share, to put the work out into the world. I would agree with his assessment that many artists have a hard time sharing their processes and maybe even their finished projects because there is so much time and effort personally invested in the work; days, months, and years in some cases.

I particularly liked his advice about dealing with criticism. Everyone has an opinion and their own tastes so it is not realistic to think everyone is going to like what you do. There are certainly people in the world that take pride in pointing out the flaws and problems in someone else’s work. It is pretty easy to critique but much harder to do the creating. The best critiques come from the people who have done the work themselves and understand the process. Mr. Kleon’s advice: focus on feedback from the people who have done this type of work or from those people whose opinion you value and ignore the rest.

The drawings and illustrations are unique and quirky. The pictures break up the narrative and highlight main points making the book a pleasure to read. I bookmarked several of them. He calls himself a writer who draws – which is an apt description.

It sounds like Mr. Kleon has a sensible wife. He quotes her a few times in the book and his affection and respect for her is obvious. He is fortunate to have such a supportive partner.

What did I dislike? Perhaps my criticism is more of a difference in opinion. As someone with a background in marketing, I disagree with Mr. Kleon when he says you should not ask for likes or for friends on social media. If the artist won’t ask or at least invite people to look at their work, how can anyone know about what the artist does? Social currency in the form of “Like” or “Retweet” in social media is a powerful influencer. It means more people will come see the work. Creatives send invitations to book launches and art show openings all the time and not always to people they know. As Mr. Kleon notes, it is not about becoming human spam but once in a while the artist should extend the invitation. Folks may not know there is a party going on if they are not invited.

Perhaps his objection is to the blatant “ask,” where the individual is not subtle about building their social media empires. I do find that kind of approach distasteful. It’s not about numbers, it’s about the quality of those people who become your fans. The trick, perhaps, is to send those invitations sparingly and when you have something of value to offer.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who does work that involves a creativity process. I recently attended a book self-publishing workshop and it struck me that while many people in the workshop did want to learn about the process of creating a self-published hard-copy or e-book, a great deal of the questions that were asked related to what I call marketing. What the workshop lacked, for these participants, was the next step: how do you let people know you have book available. Mr. Kleon actually provides concrete steps for showing the work, becoming findable, and letting people know the artist has something of value to sell. Perhaps those people will eventually buy.

If you like Amazon.ca – you can buy Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Associate Link).

After reading Show Your Work!, I bought his first book – Steal Like an Artist. I will write a review of that book in a future post.

I wrote an abridged version of this review on Amazon.ca.

Cheers, Catherine  Location: Saltspring Island, BC

Thanks for reading! If you found this information useful, informative or even entertaining, please share. I really appreciate it!