Art Reads: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

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My coworker buddy lent me this book after loving it, and it turns out that as I talk to more people, more and more of my favorite people have read this book.

Mark’s writing is relatable in a ‘cool dad’ kind of way but he’s the cool dad friend that we all need in times of crises and when we are being too hard on ourselves and giving way too many fucks. In one chapter he mentions he graduated college exactly the same year as I did, in 2007, right in time to get hammered by the economic crash of the aughts.

Wow, I never felt more of a “I get you, man,” feeling than when I read that.

But for anyone who has overhoned themselves into near-perfectionism, for any reason, this book can help. Or if you admit you’re not perfect but you’re still too friggin’ hard on yourself, this book can help.

The excerpt on Picasso in Art of Not Giving a Fuck was one I’d seen before but I didn’t mind seeing it written down. On the page before this excerpt, Picasso drops a napkin with one of his drawings on it:

It takes a whole lifetime for an artist to make what they make.

It takes a whole lifetime for an artist to make what they make.

I think it’s good that this message gets out to non-artists for a couple different reasons - it helps non-artists see their life as kind of art, which is good. And it helps artists value their work. Ultimately the point is to realize how many failures and tribulations you’ve been through, and to see these experiences as valuable.

I felt myself latching onto the Picasso excerpt and also the part in this book about a Japanese general who gets lost in the woods and rejects the idea that America won WWII, and he continues to fight as if Japan is still on the offensive, until the bitter end. This book is just full of little gems of history and pieces of the author’s life woven in. It mostly works. I’d say It’s fortunate if the fucks you are giving are about ideas instead of personal odysseys, but I don’t know, ideas have to come from people, so there’s that to deal with.

While reading this book, I started looking at the accomplishments in my life that really made me happy. It was the accomplishments where I felt the most natural and least worried that ended up being the best ones. Whenever I gave no fucks about what people thought of me, I succeeded the most, on my own terms, like a rapper or something. Whenever I gave too many fucks, I failed - usually on the terms of other people, but sometimes I failed according to my own weird standards. It really is counterintuitive, just like the book cover says, but giving no fucks ended up working for me.

Giving no fucks works pretty well in art - I find when I try too hard or constrain myself too much (give too many fucks) I usually end up failing. Giving fucks equates to me beating myself up and eventually doing nothing. It’s only in being free and giving less fucks that I make art that I am truly proud of.

I definitely had to actively give no fucks when I sketched this romantic sailboat scene. There was a nagging part of me that was trying to give too many fucks, saying: “Why are they on a sailboat? That’s not how a sailboat works! Why is she controlling orbs? What?”

I definitely had to actively give no fucks when I sketched this romantic sailboat scene. There was a nagging part of me that was trying to give too many fucks, saying: “Why are they on a sailboat? That’s not how a sailboat works! Why is she controlling orbs? What?”

None of this makes any sense! Relax and give no fucks and draw some dreamy sailboat art, kid

None of this makes any sense! Relax and give no fucks and draw some dreamy sailboat art, kid

Giving no fucks also came up in a couple of my other pieces which are working into Tilted Sun, where a massive deer comes along and is suddenly a predator. I can feel the over-achieving explainer side of me asking: How did it become a predator? What is the cellular science of this? The give-no-fucks side can answer: I don’t know man just relax it’s just a giant deer.

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My point is, freedom is important for art. Giving no fucks is oddly important if we want new things and change to happen.

This story isn’t in Mark’s book, but it is one I have heard over and over again about giving no fucks, and I hope it helps anyone who reads it. The actual quotes are not accurate at all, but this is how I have heard the story told to me over several beers:

Stan Lee was about to quit comics forever. He wasn’t making any money, he had put in years of work, and he sat down and said to his wife “I think this comic will be my last one.”

Stan Lee’s wife said to him: “Well sweetie, if you’re going to quit, why don’t you just write whatever you want? Just go crazy!”

Stan Lee did just that! He unleashed his creative side and came out with Spiderman, the Avengers, and more, because heck, it was supposed to be his last comic. It was the Final Fantasy effect - long before the first pixel ever slid across the first screen in anyone’s livingroom. It was these give-no-fucks Marvel books that sold and took off and it’s the reason why Stan Lee stayed in comics and why we have all of the Marvel comics and movies that we do today.

I checked out Mark’s website after reading the book - I am a curious cat, I am - and it was almost too much for me. It was the Forbes-stamped website of someone who gives a huge amount of fucks, festooned with testimonials for all to give fucks about.

Spoiler, I wish I hadn’t looked at his website. I was already onboard with the Give No Fucks mission and I didn’t need to look at the website.

As I scrolled through all of Mark’s awards and cool web motifs, I felt some kind of daemon land on my shoulder and say: “Hey, this give-no-fucks charlatan is out here giving fucks! Let’s get him!” When I saw the Forbes endorsements and slick-as-ice frontend UI on this website, I had to go back and remember that Mark was a fellow 2007 graduate - everything Aught Crash Grads do has to be 100% better than the next person over. You have to go hard into oblivion. But again, even if you didn’t graduate into the worst economy in the history of time, there isn’t really anything else to do in life.

So, who needs this book? Is it the person in your life who gives too many fucks? Maybe, but I think it could be entertaining for just about anyone.

Ultimately I think the message of the book is to keep a sturdy fuck budget and give the right amount of fucks about the right things, things which matter to you. Hopefully the things that matter to you are worth caring about.

Artist Takeaways:

Whenever anyone asks you how long it took you to do something, always answer “My entire life”

Usually the best work comes from giving no fucks

Find your demon that gives too many fucks and kick it to the curb

Art Reads: Snow Crash

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Hiro Protagonist, goggling in, burbclaves, ‘pooning, the Metaverse, hackers, Babel.

Written in 1992, Snow Crash mostly predicts our present time in 2019. The Kouriers in the book are Postmates, burbclaves are gated communities with their own pseudo-laws, and the book’s opening chapter detailing an extremely timely pizza delivery predicts our current-day Dominoes app where you can see the name of who makes your Pizza and an Absolute Pizza Status update.

Anyways, if you’ve ever worked in Pizza Delivery, you’ll love Snow Crash. If you’re a software developer you’ll be screaming yes at it. If you’re a linguist you’ll think it’s the bomb. If you’re a war historian, a pathologist … let’s just say Snow Crash takes on a lot of things, possibly All the Things, without being too much. I don’t know how Neal Stephenson did this, but he did.

A couple of the book’s more fanciful inventions are just too cool for school, or too cool for our time. It’s hard to say when Snow Crash happens - maybe 2010, maybe 2020. You get the idea that Hiro and his friends would have to be about 30 or 35 in 2019. But, as future-flung science fictions go, Snow Crash predicted our dear actual 2019 much more closely than Blade Runner or Akira.

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Some science fiction books run the risk of acting like the smartest guy in the room. We all know this guy. He drops references, analogies, always with a raised eyebrow to see if you’ll react. But Snow Crash isn’t that guy. Neal Stephenson believes that author and reader are on a level playing field, we are all in this insane boat together. We are all the smartest guy in the insanity boat.

A lot of books and movies have ripped off Snow Crash, and it isn’t mere references or winking homages, it’s some of the most blatant ripoffs I’ve ever seen. If you read Snow Crash after you’ve seen or read Ready Player One or the Matrix, you’ll be facepalming into a horrible blue oblivion. I for one, sure did. The sheer amount of Snow Crash ripoffs feel like going to the club on the week that Michael Jackson died - everyone was playing Michael Jackson but it for all the seethingly wrong, unfortunate reasons.

There were a couple places in the book where two characters started talking each other through a linguistic mystery, and I lost track of who was talking, but I didn’t exactly care - I was there for it. The excitement to tell just bleeds from the pages during these dialogues. It’s like chatting with your friend with a PhD in Comics Studies who can’t wait to tell you all about the vast expanse of the Captain America universe.

As I was thumbing through page after page of Snow Crash on the DC Metro, I thought to myself “I could draw every page of this, I could make multiple drawings per page for this.” Turns out there’s a good reason for this feeling. In the book’s afterward, Stephenson goes on to say that at one point, the book was supposed to be a graphic novel. He mentions Snow Crash was hard to write (I’ll bet) and even harder to visualize. Conceived imagistically, it was far ahead of its time, yet in its time.

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I looked for artist Tony Sheeder, but I couldn’t find anything on him. This is the closest I got, I hope it’s right:

I made the drawing below while thinking about Snow Crash - in the novel there is a character who has barcodes on the chest of her outfit, and these barcodes act like mini scannable passports which allow her to enter x number of small nation-states or burbclaves. The barcodes sort of look like military stripes.

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While making this drawing I was sort of thinking about tags or small markings or screens and interfaces as forms of identity, much in the same way that they worked for the character in Snow Crash. Maybe the problem is that artists just can’t help but rip off Snow Crash, but I hope this is more of an homage rather than making millions of dollars that Neal Stephenson should have made. Snow Crash is just so freakin cool, man.

Perhaps because it was meant to be a graphic novel, or because Neal Stephenson is just a super chill rad dude who I would totally get a beer with, women in this novel have the same kind of inner thoughts that men do. At first I didn’t notice this, but when I looked at it more closely, it just blew me away. Women have the same internality that men do. Women have the same internality that men do. This doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but I’m over here jumping up and down on a couch over it. I felt like I hadn’t even been screaming, but someone heard me nonetheless.

I think Snow Crash ultimately works better as a novel - as a movie or graphic novel, it would have been sealed in 1992 like a mosquito in amber. As a novel, it grows with us as technology grows. It doesn’t feel like looking at a Netscape Navigator interface or like watching the dated animations in Johnny Mneumonic. It feels like looking at a 1990s painting of Google Chrome or Second Life or the Dominoes Pizza app, and the painting is astonishingly, psychically correct.

Artist Takeaways:

Snow Crash is so good that it’s hard to NOT make art about it

We should all buy whatever stocks Neal Stephenson buys

Art Reads: Six Easy Pieces

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Reading this book, Feynman’s voice rings with sonorous relateability - you can imagine him pacing in front of a lecture hall and expanding upon the emptiness of atoms.

There’s something oratory in the writing, yet, friendly. It’s unlike most physics reading experiences in this way, and you can see why Feynman was such a star of his time, and an eternal star ever after his passing. He could be talking about tides and gravity while sitting and having a beer with you, or in front of 100 sophomores. This is Feynman’s accessible charm - he’s telling you great secrets, publicly.

Feynman’s compelling physics lessons always arrive with a dash of scale and analogy - an atom is the size of a room, the nucleus is the size of a speck of dust in the room, and the electrons are all around the room or the walls of the room itself.

Reading Feynman after reading everything Sagan does feel like reading a prequel. Reading Feynman after Neil DeGrasse Tyson feels even more so. If born in 1960 or 1970, Feynman would have been a charismatic leader with his own TV Show, someone would have noticed and said “Wow this guy is amazing” and put him on air.

Richard Feynman juggling is a nice photo to accompany the chapter on The Theory of Gravitation

Richard Feynman juggling is a nice photo to accompany the chapter on The Theory of Gravitation

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The introduction to this edition of Six Easy Pieces states that Feynman probably failed to reach students with giving these lectures, and that in his own self assessment, his teaching efforts were mostly a failure - but I don’t exactly see how he could have failed. Maybe 90 of 100 undergrads in 1989 weren’t ready, or they weren’t reachable. People say that kids these days are dense, but it’s hard to imagine someone who couldn’t be compelled by Feynman. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.

Perhaps the whole world loved him, but they just couldn’t react in the moment with Richard Feynman. They watched him careening by like a meteor, but they couldn’t get swept up in his magnitude. They couldn’t be amazed at an atom’s nucleus or the unknowability of most of physics. This is the only thing I can surmise as to why he thought he failed. I feel like I am trying to comfort an A+ student who is judging herself too hard.

The horrible condition of physics today for Feynman. We barely know what we don’t know, and we don’t know how far we have to go.

The horrible condition of physics today for Feynman. We barely know what we don’t know, and we don’t know how far we have to go.

There are some ways to find out mysteries in physics …

There are some ways to find out mysteries in physics …

Midway through the book there is this stunning footnote:

“For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”

He’s right, the truths of physics are so wild, so outrageous, that the romance of reality is dramatically beyond tales of Chronos and Zeus. Feynman in this book is an entertainer - It’s Carl Sagan slicing a pie in Technicolor, it’s Neil Degrasse Tyson walking across a galaxy for millions of viewers on Netflix. All three physics superstars are like artists in this way, in that they take in outrageously abstract concepts and bring them to earth while at the same time admitting that we barely understand them.

Abstract ideas, even unknowable abstract ideas are communicable, but it takes an absolute master to take us there. 90% of us still may not get it.

Artist Takeaways:

Complex ideas can be communicated in a simple way

Even the smartest can still fail at understanding

The physical truth of the world is far more romantic and outrageous than fiction