One of the most destructive misunderstandings about creativity is the lone genius myth, warns Austin Kleon, a self-described “artist who writes” and the man behind the New York Times bestseller Steal Like an Artist.
Kleon opened last month’s SXSW Interactive festival and at Huck HQ we have been thinking about his presentation a lot ever since. We wanted to first share Kleon’s thoughts on sharing your process, then we’ll explain how Huck would like to help make it easier for you to share your work.
The lone genius myth, Kleon says, presents creativity as an anti-social act, where the route to great work is to “Wall yourself off from humanity torment yourself and suffer for your art. Keep your process and your ideas secret until you are ready to unleash them on the world, or until the world is ready to accept them as a gift from the gods.”
But there is another model that Kleon is championing. He argues good ideas and great creative work emerge from a network of creative individuals, an ecosystem of inspiration, or what musician Brian Eno called a “scenius.”
“If you look back at history, many of the people we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas and contributing ideas,” Kleon says.
Good Work Is Not Created In A Vacuum
“Yes there was Da Vinci, but there was also 15th century Florence; Picasso sure, but also Paris in the early 20th century; the Talking Heads but also New York in the late 1970s. Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of great indivuals. It just acknowleges that good work is not created in a vacuum.”
So, Kleon says, you don’t have to be a genius to do great work, you just have to become a part of the scenius.
Sharing is the way to take a part. Share what you love and steer people towards others who are doing work you love. But also share your work and, even more importantly, share your process.
“When you let them look over your shoulder, you are in effect generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in,” Kleon says. “Of course teaching is not a completely altruistic activity. When you share your knowledge and your work with others, you receive an education in return.”
Then Kleon threw in a twist by adding baseball analogy. He described his obsession with the knuckleball, where a pitcher releases the ball with as little spin as possible so the ball moves strangely.
“Once a knuckleball is thrown it’s equally unpredictable to the batter, the catcher and the pitcher who threw it — a little like the creative process itself,” Kleon said.
Knuckleballers are the ugly ducklings of baseball. Unlike the masters of the fastball or slider, knuckleballers share their secrets. They want to keep the pitch alive.
Find Those Who Share Your Obsessions
“As you hang out in your scenius and you start sharing things, you will run into your fellow knuckleballers,” Kleon says. “These are your real peers. These are your inner circle, people who share your obsessions. People who share a similar mission to your own, people with whom you’ll share a mutual respect. It’s very important when you meet these people, not to treat them as your competition, but as potential collaborators or co-conspirators.”
Through Huck we’d like to help build the scenius and help you find your fellow knuckleballers.
If you’d like to join us, post photos or images of your work in progress on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Google+ and tag them #huckprocess. We’ll showcase the scenius that we create together in a new series “Show Your Work.”
We also strongly recommend picking up Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work! in which he expands on all these ideas and more.