Following his last book, which encouraged creatives to “Steal Like an Artist,” Austin Kleon’s latest pocket-sized book teaches you how to “Show Your Work.” Kleon’s advice is spot-on for those of us who are striving to survive and get recognition in this digital age, and “Show Your Work” resonates especially because it’s for “people who hate the very idea of self-promotion” — people like me. I’m not good at talking about or selling myself, and I’ve always believed that good work sells itself. But as Kleon explains in the book, “work doesn’t speak for itself.”
“Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them,” Kleon writes. “The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.” Imagine, as Kleon suggests, looking at two completely identical paintings. Then imagine being told that one is by a 17th Century Dutch master and the other is a forgery. Suddenly you will see them differently.
Kleon encourages you to “talk about yourself at parties,” and learn to see questions about your work not as “interrogations,” but as “opportunities to connect with somebody.” I couldn’t agree with him more. I recently told a friend who is a Vedic astrologer that she should be telling everyone she meets what she does because it is a natural conversation starter. Most of us in the creative field do very interesting things that people want to learn about; what better entry into showing your work than that?
Kleon’s advice is heartfelt, and though one of his tenets is to “sell out,” he means to not fall into the romantic myth of the starving artist; making a living off of your passion benefits not only you, but also the world. Sharing is about being part of a collective, connecting with others who like what you like and what you do. You will attract friends and fans, as well as potential collaborators, by showing your process.
Taking Kleon’s advice to heart, I am going to share more of my behind-the-scenes process via social media. I know this will help me improve my body of work, and who knows what conversations and collaborations it may spark? I hope you start showing your work too!