Amanda Palmer is not your average person by any means. Incredibly polarizing, some love her crazy theater girl ways. Others despise her and call her a sell-out, a poser, and a scammer. After reading The Art of Asking, you can call me a fan.
The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help is an expansion of the popular TED talk she gave in 2013. I was drawn to The Art of Asking because I want to expand my perspective on the world in 2017. I didn’t know anything about Amanda Palmer coming into the book. The title was enough to pull me in, and her wild stories were more than enough to keep me reading!
In this post, I include a summary of The Art of Asking, my takeaways, and my recommendation for you.
Summary of The Art of Asking
The Art of Asking is the story of Amanda Palmer. The Art of Asking goes through her early days working as The Bride, her music career, her interactions with her fans, and her thoughts on help and asking.
After graduating college, Amanda Palmer didn’t want a real job. A 9-5 desk job would not be for her.
Amanda decided to dress up as a bride – she wore a wedding dress and give flowers to people on the street. She would stand on the side of a street, up on top of a milk crate, and perform for the people on the street. She was making more money by being The Bride than she was at her various other gigs, so she kept doing it. People loved her.
This was when Amanda started to think about the concept of being “seen” vs. being “looked at”. Being “seen” is having someone look into your eyes and trusting your gaze – trusting you are there with them. Too many of us go through each day only “looking at” others. “Seeing” others involves a level of compassion and empathy.
The Dresden Dolls
After a few years of Bride-ing, Amanda started a band, The Dresden Dolls, with her friend, Brian Viglione. Amanda was seeking “salvation through volume” with their pounding, screaming Victorian punk rock style.
After each show, Amanda insisted on meeting fans after the show for drinks, autographs, and fun times. She increased her audience through her mailing list, parties, and social media. She would organize “ninja events” by sending out a tweet saying something like “I’m going to be in this city and at this bar at 9 PM – come see me play some music!” By interacting with her fans on a daily basis through in-person events and social media, she built a fantastic community of fans.
When touring, The Dresden Dolls regularly asked for volunteers, food, couch space, and for local musicians to get up on stage and open for them. Amanda found that asking for help almost always resulted in success. She had created a vibrant artistic community of people who were joyously looking out for each other.
Things with the record label went south because the label didn’t like the way Amanda was going about promoting her music. They wanted Palmer to stop talking to her current fans to go court new ones – this wasn’t her style.
“The whole point of being an artist, I thought, was to be connected to people, to make a family. A family you were with all the time, like it or not. That was the way we’d been doing it for years, whether or not we had an album or a tour to ‘promote’.”
After many years, she broke away from the label company and tried something completely new.
The Kickstarter Album
“I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is ‘How do we make people pay for music?’ What if we started asking, ‘How do we let people pay for music?’”
After her falling out with the record label, she wanted to make a solo album. Without too much money in the bank, she decided to do something unheard of: a Kickstarter for her album.
Amanda took asking to a whole new level with a Kickstarter campaign for her new album, “Theater of Evil”. She broke the site’s record at the time ($1.2 million in funding) and went on to launch the tour for the new album.
As she had for the past decade, she asked for local musicians to join her on tour and play. This time, the request was coming from someone who became recently famous for getting over 1 million dollars. She was targeted by many haters for ripping off musicians.
Even when she posted a breakdown of her expenses to prove it wasn’t all profit, the damage was done and her reputation took a hit. That being said, she still had her loyal fans and many social media followers (Amanda Palmer has over 1 million Twitter followers!)
Other Key Points Of The Art of Asking
It would be disrespectful of me not to mention some key points with regards to Amanda’s relationships with her husband, Neil Gaiman, and best friend, Anthony.
When Amanda was very young, she became friends with a man in the neighborhood named Anthony. Throughout her story, she references many stories Anthony told her as a young girl, a college student, and a young adult. When Amanda is touring, Anthony became sick with cancer. In The Art of Asking, Amanda details her struggles with Anthony’s cancer and how much she loves him.
Amanda also discusses her relationship with her husband, Neil, throughout the book. Naturally a very independent woman, Amanda doesn’t like commitment. Being married isn’t natural to her and there are numerous passages discussing her struggles with marriage.
The Art of Asking was a fantastic read which gave me insight into the intimate artist-fan relationship and the music industry.
Three Great Quotes from The Art of Asking
- “It isn’t what you say to people, it’s more important what you do with them. It’s less important what you do with them than the way you’re with them.” – Anthony (Amanda’s best friend)
- If you love people enough, they’ll give you everything.
- It’s hard enough to give fearlessly, and it’s even harder to receive fearlessly. But within that exchange lies the hardest thing of all: To ask. Without shame. And to accept the help that people offer. Not to force then. Just to let them.
My Takeaways from The Art of Asking
With every book I read, I want to take away a few points. It would be time wasted if there was nothing I could draw from my reading.
Don’t Just Look at People, SEE People
One of the main points of The Art of Asking is people want to be seen, not just looked at. When you walk on the streets, people generally will have darting eyes and don’t want to look at you. This situation would fall into being looked at; your presence was acknowledged, but the other person doesn’t care to keep you in their view.
To be “seen” is to truly be looked in the eye. To “see” someone is to realize that person is unique, that person has feelings, and that person is special. After reading this book, I look people in the eye with compassion. In Downtown Minneapolis, there are a number of homeless people. Most walkers just pass by and don’t try to interact. I don’t give them any money, but I do acknowledge them and say hi. A smile goes a long way 🙂
People Want to Help, Just Ask!
My second takeaway is to ask people for help when I can’t do it all myself. Guess what? People want to help, why should we stress ourselves out and try to do it all?
It comes down to trust. I love the following passage I found in The Art of Asking:
When you accept somebody’s offer for help, whether it’s in the form of food, crash space, money, or love, you have to trust the help offered. You can’t accept things halfway and walk through the door with your guard up. When you openly, radically trust people, they not only take care of you, they become your allies, your family.
If I trust people, they will take care of me and be my friend. I can’t be isolated and try to trust others; it’s not possible. I need to be open to others help and trust they can get it done.
You should read The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer. Yes, it’s possible The Art of Asking will be way out there for you. For me, it was a completely difference perspective on the world. But that’s what I’m going for in 2017. I want to gain a better perspective on the world to grow and improve myself. My takeaways include trying to “see”, not “look” at, people and to ask when I need help.
People want to help. Why not let them! Don’t be afraid – just ask!
Are you afraid to ask for things? What’s holding you back? Have you ever been a street performer? Do you ever read books which give you a completely different perspective?