Earlier this year, Grand Central Publishing released The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, a memoir by singer-songwriter-performer-blogger-entrepreneur Amanda Palmer. For those who are familiar with Palmer’s work, the content of the novel is not surprising: Palmer describes her journey from living statue to world renowned artist. But for those who aren’t familiar with her history, her tale may seem a bit unusual. How does a theater geek from Massachusetts end up revolutionizing the music industry and fan culture? What makes Palmer so different from other artists? Why should people look up to her? Well, I’ve got a few reasons:
1) She takes “engaging with her fans” to the next level
With over seventy thousand tweets and one million followers, Amanda Palmer is no stranger to social media. The singer’s investment in the site as a tool for building personal connections with her fans has often been criticized. Once, she invited fans to come play with her (for free) on stage during one of her performances, immediately following her successful Kickstarter campaign in which she earned 1.2 million dollars. Another time, she and her band used the site to find a place to stay during their US tour; the group ended up sleeping on a fan’s couch in the area. Whether or not you agree with her practices, though, does not change the fact that Palmer appreciates her fans more than most artists and will go out of her way to involve them in her process. She never forgets where she came from or who helped her get there, and for that, she deserves some praise.
2) She’s not afraid to take risks
When a disagreement with her record label prompted the company to drop her in 2012, Amanda Palmer decided to pursue a different path. The musician created a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a new album that she would release independently and asked fans to contribute however much they wanted to the project. She asked for 100,000 dollars. She received over one million, setting the record for the most money any music artist has ever raised on the site. A few months later, the group successfully released the album (for free) on Palmer’s website. When she launched the project, she had no clue if it was going to succeed, and yet, she did it anyway. That takes guts, especially when you’re a public figure whose every failure is documented by the media and broadcasted to the world.
3) She speaks her mind, even when she probably shouldn’t
I don’t agree with all of Amanda’s decisions. Over the years, she has expressed plenty of opinions that most people would find questionable, but I can respect her for having the courage to express them regardless. It’s not easy to put your unpopular opinions out there but sometimes, playing Devil’s Advocate is the only way to stir up meaningful conversations. And it can it pay off. When the Daily Mail ran an article on Palmer’s “nip-slip” at her Glastonbury concert, the singer responded just as you might expect: by singing a new song titled “Dear Daily Mail” completely in the nude. The response video earned over one million views on YouTube.
4) She aims to create equal opportunities for everyone
In the spirit of asking for what you want, the purchase page for Amanda’s book includes a link to “A WONDERFUL EXPERIMENT. . . [where] ANYONE ANYWHERE [can] offer or ask for the book with no fuss. People with little money are trading knitting/art/gratitude for real life books!” Sure enough, the link leads to a page where anyone looking to buy Amanda’s book can simply ask for it and if another member of the community has an extra copy, they can make a trade. According to Palmer, information should not be reserved for those who can afford it. That’s a philosophy I can get behind.
5) She promotes creative expression and discovering yourself through art, despite all the non-believers
This quote from her book says it best:
“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it. There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to university, getting published, getting signed to a record label. . .[but] 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.”
Maybe you hate Amanda Palmer. Maybe you think she’s loud or attention seeking or hypocritical. And maybe she is. But she also has plenty of important lessons to offer the world, and if we take the time to listen to them, we may learn a couple of things.
Featured image via GawkerAssets.com.