Whether you’re a Dresden Dolls fan, or know of her from social media or any of her captivating and sometimes controversial side projects, once you’ve heard of Amanda Palmer, you always want to know what she’s up to. Her tweets, shows and interactions have reached millions of people – and most of them are now fans and supporters.
But in the book, The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer explains that simply performing and tweeting isn’t the whole story. In fact, building a successful career as an artist and performer has just as much to do with knowing how to ask for things, network and treat people right.
Are you ever ashamed to ask for the financial support of your friends, family or associates? It’s common to feel uncomfortable asking for the aid of those around you, but being able to accept help when it’s offered is actually productive for both you and the person lending a hand. Try it out. When you, as an artist, start accepting the help of others, you’ll be amazed at how people support artists they admire.
Before the author became a professional musician, she worked as a living statue street performer, standing still for hours on end. Nicknamed “The Bride,” she would wear a white wedding dress, white face paint and a black wig while handing out flowers in exchange for money. Her performance quickly made her a local Boston celebrity and attracted many supporters.
Among her supporters were those who were either personally touched by her work, or simply enjoyed participating in an art project that captivated the public. For instance, the owner of the ice cream shop where the author worked part-time let her keep her costume in the store’s basement, which also served as a changing room.
In addition to the support of her boss, the author was aided by a flower shop employee who gave her a good deal on the flowers for her show, the owner of a burrito shop who offered her food and the owner of a coffee shop that provided a calm space for her to take her breaks.
In addition to doing her act as “The Bride,” the author performed as a variety of other characters. When playing “Princess Roulette,” a white-faced ballerina, she would respond to people giving her money by doing a dance, turning and jumping at random to different spots.
Each spot indicated a different gift the person would receive, things like candy and plastic toys. But there was a problem: the author realized that the gifts she gave away cost too much relative to the donations she received for her performance.
Still wanting to offer something in return, the author opted for reasonably priced flowers, which eventually became a cornerstone of her performance as “The Bride”. But some people just weren’t interested in flowers and the author came to a realization: gifts don’t need to be physical objects.
She would be upset when her audience members refused a flower, and at other times would be concerned when homeless people, who clearly had much less than she did, gave her a dollar in exchange for a flower. She began to realize that the value of her service was of a different nature.
Her realization showed her that by looking deeply into the eyes of her viewers she was giving them the feeling that they were loved by another human. So it was also a fair deal for her homeless audience members because she made them feel seen, a luxury that society rarely affords them. The author could also relate to the feeling of being unseen: she had previously worked as a stripper and knew the value of being looked in the eyes, of how it made you feel like a real person.
Have you ever been to a performance where the artist doesn’t ask for donations? Why is it that some people have trouble asking for help? The reason is, many find it more difficult to accept something given to them as an individual than a gift made to a collective they’re a part of.
It’s essential to overcome this and always accept help when it’s offered. Even so, if you can’t accept assistance because of who is offering it or because you think you don’t need it, it’s likely the problem you’re facing isn’t too serious – yet.
For instance, the author has no problem accepting things when they’re offered and is not ashamed to ask for things others might find embarrassing, like loudly requesting a tampon in a restroom. That changed when she married Neil Gaiman, a well-renowned and wealthy novelist. Although she had accepted loans from others in the past, she couldn’t take her husband’s money to support herself between producing and touring.
But she changed her mind when her problems got serious. Her good friend Anthony was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and the author accepted Neil’s money to pay her staff, thereby freeing up time for her to spend with Anthony.
When the author first began handing out flowers as “The Bride,” some people didn’t want to take her gifts. She felt dejected until she realized that her gift could only be a gift if she allowed people the option to decline it.
The greater realization the author had in this moment was that asking is a collaborative act, because the person who is asked can choose to respond with a yes or a no.
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