So, here’s what happens when you steal like an artist.

Check this out. A 34-year-old Brooklyn artist, Adam Parker Smith “meticulously stole” from 77 artists, “sketchbooks, video, architectural objects, art making devices and more.” These pieces were taken from his favorite artist friends in order to put together a show of their work, called “Thanks.” The artists targeted knew nothing about the show until a couple of weeks before it opened. Many of the artists consigned their works to the gallery so they would get the proceeds of the sale of their work. The gallery owner, Lauren Scott Miller, said she thought of Parker Smith as both curator and conceptual artist: “He’s very thoughtful about each acquisition.” Most of the artists whose work was lifted were amused. “Any difficulty I had that he had breached a trust was overwhelmed by the humor I found in the overall project.” Parker Smith said, “This project has this gimmick that I’m stealing from everybody but it’s really about community.”

So what does this have to do with writers? Austin Kleon encourages us to steal from our favorite authors, to discover our cultural antecedents and to honor them. In the wonderful, A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr, the author acknowledges this debt in the introductory pages of the novel: “I sing praises to my muses.” And then she lists the authors whose work she admires.

Exercise (stolen from my own blog):

Identify an author you admire. Take a couple of pages of her work and break it down. Read it aloud. How does she create sentences? Pronoun the verb—in that order or another? Does she repeat? Is her writing full of metaphor? If so, how does she pull the metaphors onto the page? And then read it aloud again. And again. Print out the magnifying glass and go into the minute details of the workings of this machine. Start a journal entry and, one page in, begin to imitate or “steal from” your designated author. Write in the same rhythm and choose a similar structure to the sentences. Write for three pages. And then go back to your own voice. What have you learned? Read your piece aloud.