Show Your Work by Austin Kleon: Book Summary, Review, Notes

Show Your Work

The Book In A Single Sentence

You need to collaborate with others and show your work; the story of the lone genius is a myth that needs to die.

Get Show Your Work on Amazon.

Personal Thoughts

Show Your Work is a personal manifesto on how to get creative work of any sort done. If you do anything that involves personal expression – which basically includes just about everything – you’ll be inspired by how Kleon’s perspective on doing the work you love.

It’s also different from your typical book in just about every way. Unlike most books which go into the hundreds of pages, Austin Kleon keeps it short with powerful ideas on every page. True to Kleon’s roots as a “writer who draws”, the book is aesthetically pleasing and stands out with the various illustrations presented. If you liked Steal Like An Artistyou’ll definitely love this book.

Book Notes

  • Find your Scenius: Great ideas are birthed not by the lone genius but by a hivemind of great thinkers and artists. You don’t have to be a genius to succeed. Instead, focus on making genuine and useful contributions to a group that you identify with.
  • “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)
  • The thought of death: Most people think nearly getting killed would be a life-altering experience. Tim Krieder, in his book We Learn Nothing, says otherwise. To him, the “illumination didn’t last”. He was eventually back to “the busywork of living”.
  • Obituaries aren’t really about death, they’re about life. Reading about people who are dead and what they accomplished motivates you to live.
  • Focus on the process: Most people only want to show their finished work. The artist is supposed to toil in secrecy and keep his work private until he has a masterpiece. But in today’s world, you should show others your process – your influences and struggles – to form a unique bond with your audience.
  • Document your work. Journal your thoughts, speak into a voice recorder, and take photographs of your work. That helps you see the progress you’re making, which can often be messy in the creative process.
  • You can’t predict your best work: Nobody can consistently predict what will do well and what will bomb. Share your work to get constant feedback.
  • Don’t be a hoarder: It was fashionable in 16th and 17th century Europe to keep a wonder chamber or a cabinet of curiosities to house remarkable and precious objects. It’s no longer fashionable now to keep these objects to yourself. Share your influences with the world.
  • Share your secrets: Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do; it actually adds to it. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.
  • Shut up and listen: Don’t thrust your ideas at others, be receptive as well. If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice.
  • Find your tribe: The baseball pitcher R.A. Dickey writes in Wherever I Wind Up that “there’s no chance an opposing pitcher, no matter how nice a guy, will invite me to watch how he grips and throws his split-fingered fastball or slider”. He explains, “those are state secrets”. But the misfits, the knuckleball pitchers, don’t keep secrets. There are so few of them, that they actually form a kind of brotherhood and share with each other.
  • Learn to take a punch: Fear is often just the imagination taking a wrong turn. Bad criticism is not the end of the world. The more criticism you take, the more you realise it can’t hurt you. Sometimes, having your work hated can be a badge of honour.
  • Sell out: Everybody says they want artists to make money, and then when they do, everybody hates them for it. When people are asked to get out their wallets, you find out how much they really value what you do. Real artists don’t starve.
  • Keep working: A successful or failed project is no guarantee of another success or failure. Successful artists keep working regardless of the outcome of their previous project.