Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer #review

Title: The Art of Asking
Author: Amanda Palmer
Publisher: Piatkus, 2014

Amanda Palmer’s special brand of art-making has been threaded into my cultural landscape for years now. While I’ve never been a raging fan of her music, both solo and in her band The Dresden Dolls, I’ve nonetheless appreciated her attitude, and there’s something to be said for her music; it’s memorable and snarky, and you won’t forget it quickly (or look at the map of Tasmania in quite the same way again).

This formidable artist is the antithesis of the ephemeral, cosmetically enhanced pop divas whose sameness relegate them, ultimately, to a homogenous anonymity.

Amanda Palmer, singer, songwriter and self-described activist, and wife to author Neil Gaiman, is not afraid to express exactly what’s on her mind. If some find her loud and off-putting, it’s too bad, so far as she’s concerned. She has no qualms about over-sharing which, in its own way, is refreshing. She connects with people in a way many celebrity musicians don’t.

Perhaps this very fact is why The Art of Asking is so engaging – Amanda breaks down many of our traditionally held norms and calls into question our natural reticence that prevents us from reaching out to others. This is especially pertinent in situations where we do need to ask for help, but don’t.

Amanda isn’t shy. That is one of the first things we learn about her. Yet that outward mask of bravado also hides a fragile, somewhat brittle interior, and Amanda is frank when she speaks of concepts such as “The Fraud Police” that crop up during moments of crippling self-doubt.

While some have criticised her methods, stating that she’s attention-seeking, that she’s constantly asking for favours and exploiting other artists – and this is despite her recent Kickstarter success – I have to give her this much: she’s honest about her wart-and-all methods. She’s not afraid to admit when she’s made an error in judgement.

What’s also immediately clear is that Amanda refuses to be pinned down by traditional methods of making and transmitting art, and she’s willing to experiment. She discusses also how the music industry is limited by traditional methods, and how musicians (and other artists) can break out and empower themselves. By asking.

Granted, Amanda’s results have been unpredictable (both good and not so good) but there’s no denying that she’s a maverick in the industry (which is bound to result in some folks getting their knickers in a twist).

What we have in The Art of Asking is a unapologetic, in-your-face and highly personal account of how one artist refused to be defined by traditions, and how, despite moments of self-doubt, she carved out a niche for herself. This serves as an inspiration to any of us who ever dreamed of following our passions instead of settling for what is safe and predictable. If you’re looking for a book that will inspire you to break out and connect with others, and find ways to turn your limitations into advantages, then The Art of Asking may resonate strongly with you.

Amanda’s intense bond with her fans highlights just how vital this connection is, and many of us would do well to realise that this sort of relationship works both ways.

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