Dave Stevens


(posted on 15 Jun 2024)

Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in others’ nests so unassuming birds raise their young—strike me as opportunistic and parasitical. Their meal-finding method is fascinating too: they eat the insects stirred up by the feet of cattle. These birds know how to take advantage and lighten their load.

It reminded me of Austin Kleon’s TED talk titled “Steal Like an Artist”. During a period when he experienced writers block, Kleon began blacking out words and lines from newspapers and arranging them into haiku like poetry. People accused him of lacking originality. However, research revealed a 250-year-old technique like Kleon’s called found poetry. Writers and artists like Tom Phillips, William Burrows, and—going back in history—Caleb Whitefoord, a contemporary of Benjamin Franklin—created works the same way. Kleon concluded with “Nothing Is Original” and “All Creative Work Builds On What Came Before” with the result that we are “Creative Kleptomaniacs”.

One of my students, whose name escapes me, started to collect magazine images of models. He painted clown faces over top. Initially I thought boredom motivated him but as I talked to him, I realized he was influenced by Red Skelton’s paintings of clown faces and the misguided value we place on models’ looks. He was parroting Kleon without knowing it.

Austine Kleon

Red Skelton