Newspaper Blackout and the transformation of the material culture

Austin Kleon is an artist/writer based in Texas that I have followed on Twitter for the past years. I always find his opinions very interesting, as well as his reading recommendations, drawings, pictures, etc. This guys keeps himself very busy and by now has published three books: “Newspaper Blackout,” “Steal Like an Artist,” and “Show Your Work.”

Newspaper Blackout (Cover), by Austin Kleon, 2010.

Mainly targeted for artists, “Steal Like and Artist” and “Show Your Work” are useful guides to help improve your creative process and bring your personal work into a more broader scope, meaning, publishing and exhibition. In this manners, I consider these books can help not just artists, but writers or researches to find their own voice, to develop a more structured sense of work in order to accomplish a professional path in any area you wish to develop. Personally, I have found some of his recommendations very useful into my own creative process.

“Newspaper Blackout” is the book that caught my most recent curiosity. This publication is a series of poems composed by Kleon based in newspaper articles. He read and selected a series of words along the articles to structure his own thoughts. When he had “no words,” these sources allowed him to construct new texts, it offered him the resources he did not find by himself when inspiration was missing.

It called my attention because I also linked this thought with the idea of transform material culture, a main topic we discussed in the course offered by Dr. Martinko last semester. Kleon reads the articles in his leisure time (e.g. commuting, having lunch, etc.), selects some texts, and then his creative process starts by analyzing the texts, finding the words, his words, to construct a prose. Then, with a black marker, he highlights the words he needs and covers the rest of original the piece in black. In this way, the article, the newspaper itself, transforms into something else, another artifact, a poem when the words take a different meaning and the materiality changes. I liked the way Kleon explains it in a interview :

The raw material of the article is my own poem. The poem doesn’t even resemble the old article, or is some way carries the article. It twists the article into a different meaning, but is really about the transformation of the material […] it’s the transformation of this non-fictional journalistic artifact, taking that, and make it into something very personal, that is mine, that I feel that have could come out of me […] that is the real joy…”

This transformation, by cultural meaning and materiality, was an important argument in which the readings and discussion in the Material Culture course were all about. How an artifact is seing in different ways for individuals and groups, how is transformed through space and time, and how it can also allows to connects different dimensions of meaning and contexts. In this way, I consider Kleon’s prose is also part of this process, and allows us to see the importance of material culture as a recurrent source to understand and link past with present.


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