Keynote: Monster movies, vampires and human spam, oh my!


Managing Editor

South by Southwest kicked off without a hitch Friday, with dozens of speakers taking the stage across the downtown Austin area. From reality TV personalities to renowned entrepreneurs and multi-million dollar business owners, the first day of the Interactive festival was abuzz with thought-provoking discussions, an exchange of creative ideas and interaction among visitors from all walks of life.

For my second session of the day, I attended Friday’s keynote aptly titled “Show Your Work!” featuring Austin Kleon, a three-time New York Times best-selling author and local artist. Kleon revealed his unique artwork process as part of his first talking point. Although the average person may read the New York Times to keep up with news, Kleon, however, has developed his own creative way to develop art from the words on the articles.

Wielding a Sharpie, Kleon makes poems by drawing boxes around particular words he likes throughout the stories and “blacking out” the rest of the “unneeded” words. Using this method, which he describes as “if the CIA did a haiku,” he has inspired an entire group of people around the country to follow in his footsteps and create artwork. This concept of “blacking out” poem-writing fueled itself into his best-selling book, “Steal Like an Artist.”

During the rest of Kleon’s keynote, he discussed creativity set in the context of a “monster movie.”

“Outside those walls there are storms of the infected: I call them ‘vampires’ and ‘human spam,’” Kleon said.

Kleon invented the “vampire test” to determine who people should let in and out of their lives. If someone feels full of energy after an interaction, the other person is not a “vampire.” However, if someone feels worn out and depleted, the other person is considered a “vampire.” As far as “human spam” goes, Kleon said, “they exist in every profession and every corner of the world, and they want you to listen to their story, but they don’t stick around to listen to yours.”

To combat the “vampires” and “human spam” of the world, Kleon encourages people to aspire to be part of a “scenius” or a communal form of “genius” with the belief that good work and ideas are birthed within a network of individuals. Kleon believes there is a right and wrong way to promote one’s self. He said people should forget about being a “genius” and adjust their expectations to work in a group setting toward part of a “scenius.”

The most hard-hitting advice Kleon gave was this—“Shut up and listen, pay attention, take stock of current situation, and take note of what others are doing and sharing. The best way to avoid becoming a piece of human spam is to ask questions.”

Instead of being a “hoarder” and “antisocial” about creativity, Kleon encourages people to share and teach what they know to grow a network of interested individuals for future growth.

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