Think Like an Artist, don’t Act Like One – Review

November 6, 2019

The science of art

On the scientist/artist scale I am far on the side of science. However, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to learn from art. If we think of art as a way to represent an aspect of reality, then the chosen medium will alway impose limitations on this representation. The best art finds new ways to overcome these boundaries, taking in new ideas, thoughts and discoveries. It takes sufficiently elaborate mathematics to get perspectives and proportions right, which reflects in renaissance paintings, for example. Yet, modern art brought new forms of abstraction, as artists sought out better ways to depict their message.

The creation of art needs a unique worldview, focused, analysing, and abstracting all at once. Unfortunately, this worldview also leads some artist to selling their own canned poop. It would be great to have the visualization and visual communication skills of a painter while keeping a socially acceptable professional behavior, so I was quite thrilled by the title of Think like an Artist, don’t Act like one. It was a little let down for me to find out that de Wilt’s book is just another collection of wisecracking, bon mots and aphorisms about artists and their work, each one less than half a paperback page long. 

Let’s have a look at five artists presented in Think like an Artist, don’t Act like One, and learn from them..

Albrecht Dürer – Do look down

albrecht duerer the great piece of turf
Albrecht Dürer, Das große Rasenstück (The Great Piece of Turf), 1503

The renaissance was a time of discovery, and Dürer discovered what was at his feet. And because he was famous for meticulously painting every detail, every hair and every blade of grass, we can still see what he discovered. And we can learn that there is beauty and wonder hidden right behind (or below) our everyday perception. All we need to do is observe carefully.

Rembrandt van Rijn – Honesty Lasts Longest

rembrandt van rijn self portrait at the age of 63
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait at the Age of 63, 1969

We usually want to look our best at all times, for others and for ourselves. It is good to sometimes remember our flaws and acknowledge that others will notice them, too. Many portraits, as modern selfies, show a polished and larger-than-life image of the depicted person. Rembrandt portrayed himself as he felt, and as he was seen by others: wrinkly, warty, and tired. (According to Think like an Artist, don’t Act like One, Rembrandt shows himself poor and run-down, which is not actually true – he is wearing rather expensive clothing.)

René Magritte – This is not a Pipe

rene magritte the son of man
René Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964
Fair use,

Magritte is by far my favourite artist. His pictures are painted almost photorealistic, and the surreal effect is achieved solely by the composition of disparate elements. He paints mirrors that reflect the back of the person looking into it, gloomy night-time buildings under a bright blue sky, a pipe with the text “this is not a pipe” written below it, and many, many ominously hovering objects. I personally like the contrast of great craftsmanship and subversive silliness. It’s clever. And it teaches me that no representation of reality, be it a picture, a graph or a spreadsheet, will ever be reality. Andsometimes two things make sense on their own, but simply don’t combine well. So always give your plans, processes and beliefs a good reality check.

Jackson Pollock – Trust the Process

jackson pollock no. 5
Jackson Pollock, No. 5, 1948
Fair use,

Many artists paint in a very deliberate way, carefully setting each single stroke of the brush. Pollock placed the canvas on the floor and walked around dripping paint on it. Because sometimes a good process can reduce tedious work. Pollock could trust his process to reliably perform without the need for deliberate intervention from him. Making a good process and then actually having the confidence to let it run without tinkering is a rare business skill.

Yves Klein – Create your own Blue

yves klein ikb 191
Yves Klein, IKB 191, 1962

Klein was a man of many talents, but became famous for his large-sized monochromatic paintings. In 1960 he registered his own color, developed with paint supplier Edouard Adam. International Klein Blue (IKB) is a matte, highly opaque deep aquamarine hue. Klein used it for his most recognizable works, and IKB paint became his hallmark. You can even buy the paint yourself now. This is a lesson how to create and utilize a brand.


So, Think like an Artist, don’t Act like One is not the eye opener I wanted it to be. Instead it is a high speed sightseeing tour through art history, with some bias towards European painters. The book’s three-minute chapters suffice to give you some food for thought before bed (or on the toilet), but don’t expect too much. Think like an Artist, don’t Act like One can also make a nice conversation starter that will definitely be noticed on your table or shelf, and will signal your class and intellectuality to everybody. It has a screaming pink cover, after all.

Key Points

  • Experience art as a representation of an aspect of reality
  • Try to see what the artist saw
  • If you have seen it, don’t sell your canned poop, I guess? – unless you want to actually be an artist yourself.

Author Affiliation

Koos de Wilt is a Dutch media creator. He has a website.

Review Copy

copy bought
ISBN-10: 9063694687
ISBN-13: 978-9063694685
BIS Publishers, 2017

Get the book on*
Get the book on

Think Like an Artist, Don't Act Like One Book Cover Think Like an Artist, Don't Act Like One
Koos de Wilt
BIS Publishers
October 26, 2017

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: