Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Art of Asking

http://i2.listal.com/image/4323508/600full-amanda-palmer.jpgAmanda Palmer came out with a video this week on TedTalks on the art of letting people pay for her music instead of finding ways to make them. Her talk reminds us that throughout history, musicians have mostly been local artists, not celebrities we watch and adore from afar. 'Passing the hat' to make money didn't amount to begging back then, and she argues that it doesn't now. While her music passes as an odd mix between punk and avant-garde, her fans call almost every continent home. She often travels with the band and couch-surfs when touring. She says that it lets her fans have a connection with her she wouldn't otherwise get.

And her fans pay for her music even though they don't have to.

Her Kickstarter project received over $1.2 million in donations. She learned how to pass the hat and make connections with those who love her music. You hardly see her begging for money. More than that, her product didn't lose any value from this venture.

Of course, artists fear loss of value more than death. Palmer asks us to consider what this might mean for our own craft. Chuck Windig spoke about this TedTalk and its ramifications for authors on his (very funny and irreverent) blog. He asked if trust could pay his bills, or feed his family. As artists, we all need to ask the same questions. Does it really matter how much of a connection craft has with people if the creator can't pay rent?

Neil Gaiman also discussed what it means to be an artist in today's world in his commencement speech to the University of the Arts. Just twenty minutes long, this speech inspired thousands of artists, writers, filmmakers, and bloggers to follow their passions. I think back on his words often, especially when I need the reminder to "make good art." I don't know whether Gaiman made any money from this talk (although I hear they're going to make his speech into a book). The impact that he made spans far greater than a paycheck.

Is that point to inspire others, then, or to make money? If we had to choose, which one is more important? And how do we live these decisions?

So what does that mean for me, as a writer? Does it mean I blog for free and post up my novels? I don't know. But making good art and letting people pay for it because it's good sounds like a higher value of exchange than mass-producing something quick-n-dirty and forcing money into my wallet.