Review Fridays: The Art of Asking

I first heard of Amanda Palmer not through her music, for which she is most famous, but from her TED talk titled “The art of asking.” During the talk, she discusses her time as a living statue dubbed the eight-foot bride. She would stand silently on a crate in a white dress and, when people left money for her, she would give them a flower. She talked about how it was a deep moment of connection, how if they tried to leave without the flower, she would watch them leave, a sad expression on her face.

Later, she said, while she was in a band, she would ask for things and receive. Whether it was a couch to sleep on or food or money to fund her projects, she found that people were willing to give in return for what she offered them. She even let fans draw all over her to show how much she trusted them. In allowing herself to be vulnerable, she could make connections with people, could let them into her life and believe that, while she was putting her art out into the world, she would receive back what she had given.

What really resonated with me is the idea of trust. From a very young age, we are programmed to have an instant distrust of strangers. Media reports show the bad in the world on a daily basis, leading many of us to feel uncomfortable with this idea of trust, of vulnerability, of asking others for help. Opening up to other people and being emotionally honest is extremely difficult. I have a very hard time with this, and it helps to hear Amanda Palmer’s story, to find out that even professionally successful people still struggle with asking.

Palmer expands upon the idea in her latest book that, like her TED talk, is titled The Art of Asking. Although she prides herself on being shameless, on putting herself exactly as she is in her art, she writes about her continuing struggles with asking, even asking for something from her husband, writer Neil Gaiman. She is funny and honest and the life she has led thus far is interesting enough to carry the book alone. But, even without the personal anecdotes, she has hit upon an idea that many people can relate to, one that is important to discuss, but which we don’t for fear of seeming selfish or greedy. For some reason, many people believe that they have to do things on their own, but as Palmer writes:

“There’s really no honor in proving that you can carry the entire load on your own shoulders. And…it’s lonely.”

We should see others as fellow comrades rather than competitors. If someone helps you, it does not mean that you are weak. You are taking your place in the circle of helping—you help someone, someone helps you, and that person helps another, and so on.

She also writes about what it means to be an artist:

“There’s no ‘correct path’ to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.”

And Palmer does exactly that with this book and the TED talk before it.

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