Amanda Palmer and the “Magic Wand” of Artistic Legitimacy

I mentioned a few days ago that I had read Amanda Palmer’s Art of Asking a bit ago – and that I thought it was interesting, and that I had a few things to say about it.

Well, in the process of attempting to get those “few things” together in some sort of coherent fashion, I picked up the book again and started re-reading it.

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I like her writing style. It’s like her tweeting (for anybody who’s looked at her Twitter) in that it’s very conversational.

One thing I’m starting to realize though, as I get into this re-read is that it’s going to be difficult to distill my thoughts into one coherent post. Each chapter of the book is just dense with ideas and anecdotes and information – both referenced and experiential. And the conversational approach she takes means that the book meanders a lot – as long conversations do – picking up threads and dropping them and picking them up again later.

I like this, myself. I enjoyed this aspect of reading it. But it makes for a challenging post! At least, when I’m contemplating talking about the book as a whole. I’m actually thinking now that I might do a more effective job writing piecemeal, focusing on the bits of it that strike me, as they strike me.

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For instance, I came to a particular part today that I had actually marked on my first go-around so that I could come back and read it again. I thought it was a pretty powerful passage/idea.

I felt the same on this second perusal. So I’m just going to talk about that today:

“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 art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and 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.”

~Amanda Palmer, in The Art of Asking, pg. 43

My daughter, making good use of HER magic wand.
My daughter, making good use of her magic wand.

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Maybe not everybody values art the way Amanda Palmer does.

Actually, I know they don’t. (I personally know more than one person who doesn’t.)

I do, though.

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I believe there is a value in going to art school and honing your craft. There’s a value in publishing your writing or signing with a record label – and in so doing attaching yourself to channels that can allow your art to be experienced on a wider level than you can manage on your own.

But here’s the issue for me: Does going to school or finding yourself the recipient of a good opportunity (like a record deal) make you an artist? Does the fact that you have an MFA automatically make what you have to say in your writing more valid? Does it make it more authentic? Does being recognized by these “legitimizing forces” make your art more intrinsically worthy of being experienced than that of the person who’s composing songs in their bedroom or typing furiously into their computer alone, putting their whole heart and soul into the effort?

I guess the answer depends on your definition of worthy.

For me, the most worthwhile experiences I’ve had with art (not including my own art) have come when, as Amanda Palmer put it, I’ve “experience[d] or [felt] something deep and unexpected.” And this has happened when I’ve read renowned works of literature. It’s happened when I’ve viewed famous paintings hanging in museums.

It’s also happened when I’ve read blog posts. It’s happened when I’ve viewed Instagram snaps. It’s happened when I’ve stopped and listened to musicians busking on the sidewalk.

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There are people who will tell me that a blog post is not art – for the simple reason that it was written by an amateur with no credentials. Never mind that I found it authentic and powerful, and that I connected deeply with it. That means maybe that it was a decent piece of writing. It’s not art. It’s….well, it’s just a blog post. It’s nothing, really.

I don’t accept this.

I’m not arguing that a blog post is equivalent in every way to a complex literary novel; that would be silly. What I’m arguing is that the blog post is equally valid as a work of art…”art” being a vehicle for authentic expression, for human connection.

And I’m arguing that it’s not credentials that make someone an artist…or a stamp of approval of an authority figure (an editor, a record company executive, a gallery owner) that makes something art.

An artist is someone with the capacity to feel – and the desire and ability to translate feelings into a medium other people can connect to and identify with. And art is what they create.

And when someone views/listens to/reads what’s been created, and that someone feels a response within themselves – that’s when magic happens. It’s in that connection.

Art is about expression…yes. But it’s also, and I think more intrinsically, about connection.

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