The only way to describe The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer is breathtaking. That is how I found myself – catching my breath, feeling exposed and vulnerable, full of joy, and completely awed by Amanda’s vision of the world as one of love, connectedness and empathy. Some books come into your life at the right time.
At the core of The Art of Asking is, of course, asking – as a relationship, as a flow of giving and receiving. We have the power to help each other:
‘Asking for help with shame says:
You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says:
I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other.’ – The Art of Asking.
When we ask other people for something – for help, for a favour, for love, for support – we are vulnerable. Amanda gets to the heart of why we are often so afraid of asking: we are afraid of the ‘no’, of the rejection. But when we ask people for something, we are also leaving the possibility of the ‘no’ out there. We need to accept that there may be a ‘no’, and that this might be okay.
‘From what I’ve seen, it isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyzes us–it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one. It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.’
So how do we change our relationship with asking, being an artist (writer, photographer, creative), and connecting with others? How do we become better at accepting people’s help and asking them for that help? How do we begin to view our work as creatives as part of an exchange, a flow of giving and receiving that has value – and to resist our internal and external cries of ‘get a job!’ – this is the meaning of that fear, in the end.
I struggle to accept that my writing and my blogging is a job. I am always, always, afraid that I am not doing enough. I struggle with finding a way to earn money – with asking for money in exchange for my work. And Amanda’s book strikes at the heart of that – it cuts through the fear and shows me that I – and people making art and putting themselves out there into the world – am allowed to call what I do work, and not be afraid of what the critics (internal and external) think.
People who think that writers, artists, musicians and other creatives are not doing work, fundamentally misunderstand the value of art, music, writing, ideas, and creativity. The exchange and the connection is what matters – only we can put a value on what art, music or reading gives to us. People give to get something. We give money, time, attention, even love (especially love), to the things that add value and meaning to our lives.
‘When artists work well, they connect people to themselves, and they stitch people to one another, through this shared experience of discovering a connection that wasn’t visible before. Have you ever noticed that this looks like this? And with the same delight that we took as children in seeing a face in a cloud, grown-up artists draw the lines between the bigger dots of grown-up life: sex, love, vanity, violence, illness, death.’
So The Art of Asking is a treatise on how to be your authentic self, to make art in your own way and share that art with others. It is about building community, not being afraid to talk to and connect with others. Like Amanda, I feel that the relationships we build through doing our art – for me it is about the blog community and the individuals who get something from my writing – are what it is all about, along with the writing itself.
I’ve been blogging for seven years and as my writing has developed, my audience has expanded, and the people who ‘get it’ find their way here. In turn, I find my way to their blogs and writing. Although there are some things I would like to improve on this year – answering every comment and commenting more on other people’s blogs – I feel gratitude that my writing enables connection. Writing and art – in all forms – is a dialogue. Not everyone will want to enter that dialogue, but still, it has the ability to be something powerful.
‘It has to start with the art. The songs had to touch people initially, and mean something, for anything to work at all. The art, not the artist, is what fundamentally draws the net into being. The net was then tightened and strengthened by a collection of interactions and exchanges I’ve had, personally, whether in live venues or online, with members of my community. I couldn’t outsource it. I could hire help, but not to do the fundamental things that create emotional connections: the making of the art – the feeling-with-other-people at a human level. Nobody can do the work for me-no Internet marketing company, no manager, no assistants. It had to be me.’
And this is, I feel, something that causes confusion for people. Most bloggers get it – they get that their blogs are about giving and receiving, asking and answering, community and friendship. The internet has made people more accessible, and used well, this can become life enhancing – for both the artist and the people reading, watching or listening. It isn’t like it used to be – when writers would maintain a distance from their readers. Now we have the possibility of seeing what our work means to people.
This does has its problems, and Amanda addresses this dark side, her doubts at being vulnerable and open. Yet if you allow yourself to be open and to trust people, you will receive so much from it. There is a fine line between what you are willing to share, feeling vulnerable and privacy, but even without the internet, I feel that all writers and artists are exposing parts of themselves through their work. This is nothing new.
There is much more I could say about this book. There are things to think about, to go back and read again, to understand more deeply. What I will say is that The Art of Asking is a book that everyone should read – it is not just for artists, it is for everyone.
‘Often it is our own sense that we are undeserving of help that has immobilised us. Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for. We have to truly believe in the validity of what we’re asking for – which can be incredibly hard work and requires a tightrope walk above the doom-valley of arrogance and entitlement. And even after finding that balance, how we ask and how we receive the answer – allowing, even embracing the no – is just as important as finding that feeling of valid-ness.’