Anatomy and Art

a blog by Sara Egner

Giving/ Receiving/ Asking/ Seeking…

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So, yesterday marked the end of the SXSW festival out here in Austin.  I’ve actually been pretty distracted this spring with other things, and haven’t taken full advantage by a long shot.  But one of the perks of living in this town is that SXSW rolls through whether or not you’re paying attention, and at some point you will most likely catch word about something pretty damn cool happening, or possibly just happen to stumble into something.

For me, I think the epitome of this was on Thursday when I was having a particularly frantic day, trying to keep track of too many things, and I got a few texts from a good friend about Amanda Palmer doing something at the Scottish Rite theater.  There was no cover, and they hadn’t hit capacity yet.  All I had to do was show up.

In retrospect, I have come to really appreciate a few themes from that night – Saying yes, asking/ crowd funding, being grateful, getting your voice out there, the power of modern social technology….  In fact the entire event was constructed on those very themes.  It was first mentioned on Twitter, either that day, or maybe the day prior.  The venue was donated.  Musicians and other artists came and performed and/or shared their insights in interview.  Amanda asked them, and they said yes.  People brought along extra instruments to accommodate an acoustic setting.  Some offered their stage hand skills.

Amanda recently gave a TED talk on the art of asking.  If you haven’t seen it, I’ll embed it here…

The issue of asking to be paid for one’s art is in fact such an issue that my first reaction to this talk was perhaps a little judgmental.  But, I’ve always had a hard time with working out matters of payment.  I’ve known very few artists for whom that wasn’t a difficult area.  On second viewing tonight, I can’t help but take notice that that’s exactly what she is addressing.  And I am thankful to have had Thursday night’s presentation to really drive some of those thoughts further home for me.  It’s funny, the thing I was so distracted by that night was my recent efforts to buy a house, the biggest financial deal I’ve ever made in my life, and I was relieved that night that the show I was so distracted from was only announced on Twitter. If Amanda herself could tweet with a mic in her hand on stage, maybe I wasn’t being just horrendously rude by texting with my real estate agent and loan officer in the midst of what proved to be a fascinating panel of Amanda, and various other artists she either knew or had just met here this week amidst the festival.  And only slowly did it sink in, the relevance of the themes being covered that night to me personally.

I actually had a funny moment out in the hall when I had stepped out to take a phone call.  I was discussing construction and money and I was pacing, and feeling disheveled.  I hadn’t had time to shower that morning and I had literally dressed myself while on the phone with an insurance agent, and in the midst of it all I look up and see not 5 feet from me, Neil Gaiman.  Now, this wasn’t shocking.  He is married to Amanda Palmer and I knew that he was there that night, and apparently having his own brand of difficult day.  But in that moment, I recalled meeting him, maybe 15 years prior, in the same city, when he came for the opening of Princess Mononoke.  It was the first time in my life I’d really felt starstruck meeting anyone.  I had been a huge fan of his Sandman comic series when I was in highschool, and meeting him all those years back was a really big deal for me at the time.  I remember a friend laughed at me for wanting to meet him so badly that night, saying I had a celebrity crush.  But it was more about needing to say thank you for his work that had meant so much to me.   And this time, I passed right by him, neither of us having that kind of energy in us.  And the world felt a little smaller, and the network of people in it that much more connected.  And I also felt grateful, that these people had all come together that night (Amanda, Neil, various bands and other artists, fans, people with equipment and skills to donate,) to create an event that was truly a gift to all involved.

Lately I’ve been the recipient of a number of gifts.  Some have been more obvious or more direct than others.  But I really feel downright wealthy with the gifts that have been given or offered to me lately.  And in general they have come from either asking for what I want, or from saying yes when opportunities have presented themselves.  It’s pretty powerful really, just those two seemingly simple ideas of both asking, and of saying yes.  You wouldn’t think that those two practices would be hard, but they can be.

And in feeling grateful, I realize that it’s true, this idea of wanting to give back.  It’s true in the larger scheme of lets all get along together now, and also in that specific way that is wanting to support art and ideas that have been of value to you.  This Saturday I met a woman who teaches and writes about intellectual property law and theory.  We talked a little bit about this fundamental disconnect that currently exists between that desire to give back or to support meaningful art and artists and those corporate entities that seem at best only loosely tied to that process.  It’s all so common now to see people go out of their way to buy media they already stole to give to someone else, or  in one friend’s case, simply send a check to an artist that you don’t have a way to buy from because something they’ve done has meant so much to you.  Amanda is on to something when she talks about not demanding payment from fans but allowing  them to give it. And while we don’t all have a big fan base like she does, sometimes just saying yes to things, reaching out, and going after what you want is enough to make people want to help you.  It will be interesting to see if we get more meaningful art as sites like Kickstarter become a viable alternative to corporate representation.  The internet has certainly opened certain doors.

I’m not so sure that I’ve done these topics justice tonight, but right now I seem to be very much in need of sleep.  Those of you who have followed my thoughts this far, thank you.  And as always, I encourage you to comment with your own thoughts if you should feel so inclined.

Written by Sara

March 18th, 2013 at 11:30 pm

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