Amanda Palmer on Artistic Legitimacy

Musician Amanda Palmer recently gave a keynote at Grub Street Writer’s Muse and the Marketplace Conference. She’s whip smart and really “gets” this brave new world of social media, and so we should always listen to what she has to say.

Amanda Palmer speaking on artistic legitimacy and why all creators should embrace the "wild west" realities of promotion in the new world at Grub Street Writers.

Amanda Palmer speaking on artistic legitimacy and why artists should embrace the “wild west” realities of promotion at Grub Street Writers. Legitimacy, community, and “coming out” as an artist are all linked, and all essential for your success. But you can do it a little at a time, at a comfortable rate.

Her talk at Grub was about something much more important than social media: it was about legitimacy. That’s a huge topic in artistic productivity, and a major focus of class discussions. Some writers think, for example, that until they’ve been published in the “right” way and by the “right” people, they aren’t “real writers.” So:

Published by a commercial publisher? Real Writer! Go forth and conquer.
Indie published? Fake Writer! Hang your head in shame.

Published in established literary magazine. Real Writer.
Published on a blog (yours or someone else’s)? Fake.

Similarly, some artists believe they’re not “real” until they’ve been invited to participate in certain shows, represented by certain galleries, or reviewed by certain magazines.

Feelings of illegitimacy are a huge barrier to productivity and success because they cause artists to isolate themselves from their colleagues, audience, mentors, and other needed communities. I can usually tell when an artist’s been isolated because he: (1) is blocked, and (2) makes weird or unproductive decisions. He might, for instance, sell and market his work incompetently, or have nreasonable expectations for its success. (#2 is a major cause for #1, incidentally.)

Isolated artists often decline to participate in groups, conferences, or workshops until they’ve reached a self-designated milestone. (For example, “I’ll get a story published and then join a group.”) They have it exactly backwards, because it’s your interactions with your communities that create your success. Participation not only yields vital information and contacts, it’s an antidote to any shame, guilt, embarrassment, or ambivalence that may be holding you back.

Here’s Palmer’s take on legitimacy (from her talk’s transcript):

Who decides?

i think, when we were young, when we envisioned our future selves as artists, we pictured ourselves somehow being hauled (or hauling ourselves) over that mythical fence where we’d leave behind the ranks of amateurs, hacks and other wannabes and bask in the glow of the arrival on the other side, where those waiting titles start to sound almost erotic: “published” (for the musician, “signed”) …legitimate! recognized as authentic!

ah…to be introduced at a grown-up cocktail party by a famous artist twice your age as “the real deal”.

so who does that? where does it come from?
or maybe: who used to do it, and who does it now?

does it have to come from above, or can it come from each other?

….because, in the wise words of bob dylan, more or less: shit is changing, and it’s changing FAST.
it’s changing at the speed of the internet.

i remember the first time i realized that my blog was actually a place for “real” art, and not just some semi-artistic smart-sounding rendering of what was happening with my band and in my life.

it was november 2005 and the dresden dolls were off tour, recording some music at home here in boston.

i went for a walk in the public garden, right here, reflecting on everything that was going on around me, with a song by casey dienel in my headphones and i saw something unusual. bobbing there, in the murky waters of the swan boat pond, surrounded by dying fall vegetation, there was an green empty bottle of miracle-gro. i thought this was the saddest and most hilarious thing i’d ever seen. the dots started to connect.

if i hadn’t had a blog, it would have been a song. if i hadn’t learned piano, it might have just been a poem. the format, doesn’t matter so much.

i went home, wrote a blog that was sort of a poem and sort of not, remember reading back what i’d written and thinking: this is art. it’s “writing”. the dots connected, i shared.

and back then, i had a small blog readership, and the heads nodded in the distance at what i wrote.
that’s all i needed. it never occurred to me to try to “publish” anything i’d written. as far as i was concerned, i had “published” it…on my blog.

Watch her entire talk–it will be well worth your time:

After you’ve watched the movie, read Grub Street Writers founder Eve Bridburg’s take on Palmer’s speech and the issue of writer’s legitimacy.

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