Book Review: The Art of Asking

theartofasking_imageHappy Interweb rabbit trails brought me to Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.  Palmer is a performer, musician, blogger, crowd funder and –how she crossed my path — wife to author Neil Gaiman.  Shallow, I know, but that’s kind of the only introduction I needed.

I’m glad I caved to my shallow fan-girling, because Palmer rocks.  She gets it. If you’re seeking truth talking and unveiling and creating art in a busy life and creating real connections in this bizarre Interwebby world, Palmer has much fantastic stuff to say that is worthy of pause to hear.  The Art of Asking is an expansion of her TED Talk from 2013, when she describes a series of incidents – starting with her post-college gig as a living statue to the controversial act of crowd sourcing her albums – that led her to the epiphany of transforming the act of asking from a mindset of guilty begging to the realization that asking is a fair exchange of money for goods – goods that can include music or performance, but in reality, deep at its core, for connection and help.  Artists need to realize that their art is a valuable commodity that fills a void in the audience or consumer and becomes the bridge across which people connect.

“My music career has been trying to encounter people on the Internet in the way I could [as a living statue] on the box…I think when we really see each other, we want to help each other. I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question which is  how do we make people pay for your music. What if we started asking, How do we let people pay for music?”

Palmer’s words really resonated with me.  It reminded me of a camping trip we went on a few years ago with my brother and his family, during which my sister-in-law provided all of the food and then asked for reimbursement (which would have been much less awkward if these arrangements had been made prior to the trip, but she had declined my help when I had initially asked, so there’s one Ask) so I remembered thinking that the only thing my husband and I had contributed was entertainment.  Music and stories around a campfire…oh, and laughs. Lots of laughs.  This was a stressful trip (granted, the stress was unneccessarily fabricated IMHO because my SIL could have asked for help with everything) and we provided much needed relief. But we didn’t ask for reimbursement for that because when you witness the connection happening you’re realizing the payment is in joy.  That’s valuable. So there’s the second “Ask”.

I think a lot about “The Ask” because I work in a library. I have several circles of influence where I perform The Ask that includes various boards, volunteers, and staff but ultimately my local taxpayers and in order to do The Ask (for help, for funds) I need to believe in the value of the library and our services and I do, so The Ask really has become more of an invitation rather than a hand out.  (imaginary high five with Palmer!) Secondarily, I think a lot about The Ask because I’m a writer.  While I’m not asking for funding just yet, I am asking for time and that’s just as valuable a commodity at this point. Sometimes it’s asking myself for time and sometimes it’s asking my family for quiet space, but it’s still a need to see value in creating, in an intangible or unconventional commodity.  An artist developing a value of their own art is crucial to be confident enough in the art to share it with the world.

Read more about Amanda Palmer on her blog.


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