What Matters: Austin Kleon

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Debbie Millman has started a new project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an ongoing effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer 10 identical questions, and submit a decidedly nonprofessional photograph.

Austin Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of a trilogy of illustrated books about creativity in the digital age: Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work!, and Keep Going. He’s also the author of Newspaper Blackout, a collection of poems made by redacting the newspaper with a permanent marker. His books have been translated into dozens of languages and have sold over a million copies worldwide.

In previous lives, he worked as a librarian, a web designer, and an advertising copywriter. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and sons. Visit him online at www.austinkleon.com

True to form, the Steal Like an Artist author channeled the wit and wisdom of some of his beloved heroes.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

"oh god it's wonderful

to get out of bed

and drink too much coffee"

-Frank O'Hara

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

"I was the littlest kid at our supper table, there was only one way I could get anybody’s attention, and that was to be funny."

-Kurt Vonnegut

What is your biggest regret?

"What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness."

-George Saunders

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

"I tell my piano the things I used to tell you."

-Frederic Chopin

What makes you cry?

"I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things."

-Tom Waits

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

"Whenever I finish a work, I always feel lost, as though a steady anchor has been taken away and there is no sure ground under my feet. During the time between ending one project and beginning another, I always have a crisis of meaning. I begin to wonder what my life is all about and what I have been put on this earth to do. It is as though immersed in a project I lose all sense of myself and must then, when the work is done, rediscover who I am and where I am going."

-bell hooks

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

"There are three deaths; the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time."

-David Eagleman

What do you hate most about yourself?

"I write because I hate. A lot. Hard…I wish to make my hatred acceptable because my hatred is much of me, if not the best part. Writing is a way of making the writer acceptable to the world."

-William Gass

What do you love most about yourself?

"I have a sense of humor. I suspect that the people who last the longest, who continue to be trustworthy, are people with a sense of humor."

-Gloria Steinem

What is your absolute favorite meal?

"A guy works all day, he don't want to look at his plate and ask, 'What the fuck is this?' He wants to look at his plate, see a steak, and say 'I like steak!'"

-Pascal, from the film Big Night