Every week I get an e-mail from Austin Kleon. Not a personal one, but oh, I guess it’s a newsletter. But it’s one of the greatest I receive, because he shares insights, art and references to other people and their work. I have never read any of his books (I should, though), but I know the basic outline of his first book ‘Steal like an artist’.
The basic premise is that you stand on the shoulders of giants. Another expression I love. It means that you learn from history, from what and who was and is already there. And you build your work on top of that. The thing is however: you decide on whose shoulders you’ll stand. And that is the idea of Kleon: if you stand on the shoulders of great artists, you’ll build on that.
There is a warning in that: don’t stand on crappy shoulders. Shoulders of a giant that wants to bring you down or one who is no good at all. Or makes the art you don’t want to make. Because if you stand on those shoulders, you will have no steady ground. You’ll risk falling off, although perhaps that’s the best thing that can happen in that situation.
I am a proud trainee these days with Fuck It, the Ultimate Spiritual Way, and last week I went on another retreat-training. It was one of the best ones I had in a while. Not because everything went great, the sun shone and the angels sang, but because it gave me the opportunity to speak my truth, even when others didn’t like it (and told me so).
Being in training gives me the opportunity to play with those moments. And it gives me the opportunity to learn from, stand on top of the shoulders of Gaia, the main spiritual guiding light. Although never literally of course. That would be rude. And although the moment is not there yet, once I’ve seen the view from her shoulders, it shines a light on the path that I can take.
The same is true with all the art I make, the texts I write – it is never made to match someone else’s works of art (written or painted). It is made because I am figuring out which way works best for me. And I can tell you, sometimes it feels like I am in the dark, because I don’t look up or I only look backwards. Or it feels confusing, because I can’t see the entire path.
Of course, I want to see my entire path, but it’s not supposed to be that way. I can only see what’s here, now. I can only have my path partly illuminated by the one on whose shoulders I stand and see the possibilities that are ahead. But there will come a moment where I jump down to follow my own path and perhaps, in the future, someone is brave enough to stand on my shoulders. And I can be humble enough to shine a light for someone else to find his or her path.