No art this week, because I’ve been designing new kits, and packing lots of little parts and pieces, and my work table is awash in plastic bags and bins. Instead, I’m going to talk about a book I read recently, and how it fits into what’s going on in my life, and my art, right now.
So. The book, as you can see, is The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I’ve been following Amanda on Twitter for several years. I like her music, and her attitude about art. She embraces the Internet in the same way she embraces her fans: with an openness and wholehearted trust that I only wish I could emulate. Perhaps I love this about her because I went through a period of online openness, and was hurt very badly by it, causing me to become closed and guarded in my Internet interactions. Perhaps I love this about her because I enjoy seeing anyone do something with absolute, reckless abandon.
Two years ago, just as I was being diagnosed with uterine cancer, Amanda gave a talk called The Art of Asking, at TED in Long Beach, where I went to college. I was struggling not only with my health, but with the idea that I had to ask for help. Help with mounting medical bills. Help with getting around the house after my impending surgery. Help with just about every aspect of my life. I watched this video, and I cried, because the idea of asking for help, and of letting people help, was the one thing I needed help with most.
Here’s the talk from 2013. I posted it here two years ago, in the midst of my health disaster. You should watch it, if you haven’t already. I’ll wait…
After I watched this video, I fired off an email to Amanda, telling her how it came, for me, at the exact moment I needed it. A week later, I had surgery, and focused all my energy for the next few months on helping my body heal itself. Somewhere along the way, Amanda responded, with kind words and thanks. It meant a lot to me that she saw me at that moment.
Two years later. Here’s Amanda’s book, which expands on the ideas of asking for what you need, and letting people support you. For me, the past two years have been all about learning how to do that, and this book helped me to understand why it’s been so difficult. Amanda talks about the whole “get a job” issue, which I think every artist faces: many people tell us, every day, that what we do isn’t real, doesn’t matter, and isn’t valuable. It’s hard to not listen, and still stay open, do what we do, and make a living. It’s an exercise in trust to let people in, and to let them support you. I expect I’ll be struggling with this exercise for a long time.
As I read The Art of Asking, I found myself nodding in agreement with so many of Amanda’s thoughts, and seeing my own progress in art and life in what she had written. This book really hit close to home, in the same way the TED talk did, but for different reasons. Two years later, I’m healthy and stronger, and am learning to let people support my work, rather than making them pay for it, by doing things like offering Pay What You Want classes, and setting up a Patreon campaign. I’m finding ways to connect with supporters in a way that is comfortable for me. I’m not quite ready to surf the crowd the way Amanda does, but I am learning from her. This book gave me things to think about, and things to work on. At a time when I’m also taking a step forward with my art, I feel as though I’ve been given a road map to help me move forward with who I am as an artist. My focus isn’t just what I want my art to be, but what kind of an artist I want to be.
Sorry. I meant to talk more about the book than about me, but The Art of Asking was that kind of experience. I saw myself in the pages. I have some of the same problems, insecurities and frustrations Amanda writes about. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed reading this book so much. It’s about the things we, as artists, have in common, and how we present ourselves to the world. It’s about who we aspire to be. And it’s about one woman’s journey, from standing on a milk crate, to surfing a crowd without fear. We all need a dose of that.