A Man And His Marker

Once upon a time, I used to cut out photos, captions and headlines from the newspaper and rearrange them to make a totally new statement. I’d often follow the newly formed thought with lines of verse, making for a rudimentary media mashup.
Austin Kleon, “a writer who draws” is up to something similar. He takes newsprint and marks it out with a Sharpie, leaving a few key phrases visible thereby constructing new meaning from what was.
Cleveland Plain Dealer has said of Kleon’s work, it’s “like Michelangelo carving away the marble that imprisoned what he saw within.” That paper and others are taking note of his work, as is Harper Collins. The publisher is putting out a book of Kleon’s blackout poems in Sept. 2009.
Yet, months before the book ever reaches a shelf in a musty old bookstore, Kleon is seeing his concept poached by Microsoft and JWT/New York.
Exhibit A:
In the comments on Kleon’s site, “Illy” says:

when ads “borrow” ideas, especially signature ideas like a warhol look or the like, people usually recognize the source.
the reason why these campaigns piss me off is that you are not a household name (yet), and so the approach smacks more of a rip off.
also, for whatever it’s worth, your look is quiet and somber, silent and aware.
this red-out and x-ing out looks kinda violent.
really bloody.
kinda like what syd vicious would do if he ran with your idea.
just talking out loud.
you rule.
microsoft is easy to hate… and i usually do what is easy.

Kleon has the right attitude though, reminding his readers that “you can’t copyright an idea.” However, he would like to see Microsoft purchase each of their 60,000 employees a copy of Newspaper Blackout Poems in September. Wouldn’t that be blogable?
If you make your own blackout poems and want to share them with the world, Kleon has created a group on Flickr for that very purpose.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.