THE ART OF ASKING by Amanda Palmer (PIatkus Books, 2014)
This book is part memoir, part manifesto and part egocentric vanity project.
Amanda Palmer is a performance artist. She has been a human statue, a stripper and is best known as the lead singer of The Dresden Dolls who, in their early years were, in her own words, “a punk-cabaret duo specializing in tear-jerking seven-minute songs with drum solos”.
The manifesto part, is her fervent belief that artists, and by extension all human beings, need to learn that there is no shame in asking for help when you need a place to sleep or money to finance projects.
The experiences she recounts are proof that this can work. The most dramatic example is a Kickstarter campaign to fund an album. She set a relatively modest target of $100,000 but eventually raised a record-breaking $1 million. This level of success was not without its critics. She has been labelled a “self-serving, greedy, superficial attention whore” but is thick-skinned enough to overcome such unmerited slurs.
In her view, asking is an art form because, although in essence improvisational, it has rules that have to be studied and perfected. It is not the case that people always get what they ask for but there’s never any harm in trying.
She puts a lot of faith in altruism but knows that the givers need to respect the recipient. Many are reluctant to ask for fear of being seen to be no more than beggars but she argues persuasively that “Asking is an act of intimacy and trust. Begging is a function of fear, desperation and weakness”.
Palmer comes across as high-maintenance; someone who thrives on risk and runs on nervous energy. She earned a hand to mouth living as a human statue (the eight-foot bride) . This allowed her to connect with people, while fulfilling her need to be an exhibitionist. She rewarded those put money in the collection box with a flower and a non-verbal ‘thank you’. “Everybody wants to be seen”, she says and making eye contact with the givers was her way of saying ‘I see you’.
As someone who grew up craving intimacy and detesting commitment she found being a human statue was a perfect job.
something shifted when she met and married Neil Gaiman. This unlikely pairing is proof that opposites attract. In direct contrast to her, he is quite shy, hates dancing and dislikes being the centre of attention. Theirs is clearly a relationship that works however, mainly because it based on mutual respect.
One thing that remains constant throughout though Palmer’s hyperactive nature. She has a tendency towards loudness and lives with a continual need for tangible displays of reassurance. Social networks like Twitter are a lifeline.
If you can put up with these, often irritating, character traits, the book offers plenty of down-to-earth, practical advice on how to build support networks and make a living as a creative artist. She can be pretentious but she wins legions of fans and admirers because she wears her faults on her sleeve.
Her insights into the human condition are both honest and real. The bottom line for her, and a message for everyone is that “We’re all broken in a way and we’re just trying to feel whole”. In other words, we’re all in this together so we need to trust more be more open in our needs.
“What’s the harm in asking?”, she asks, and by the end you can only concede that there is no harm at all if the demands come from a place of authenticity and integrity.