Art Reads: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

the subtle art of not giving a fuck mark manson.jpg

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.

becky jewell deer.png

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