This will be lengthy. I’m not one to normally comment on individuals publicly. I understand public scrutiny and the burden of being a public figure on a small level. However, I feel compelled as a singer/songwriter who is always reluctant to apply the word “artist” to myself to respond to the irony of the latest speech I heard by Amanda Palmer.
For a bit of background, Amanda Palmer had a band called The Dresden Dolls on Roadrunner Records. She was able to put out two records before being dropped before she could release a 3rd album. From what I’ve heard and read, the relationship between her and the label was quite contentious. Eventually she was released from her contract and has since been making a name for herself as an independent artist who recently broke records for the amount she was able to raise using the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter to release an album.
Anyone who may be familiar with my situation might understand why I may take a particular interest in what she does. In full disclosure, I’m not a fan of her music. But I think she’s intelligent, well-spoken and I enjoy her speeches.
However, she most recently made news because she posted a poem/free-thought-blog empathizing with one of the Boston bombers which sparked outrage across the web. I can’t say that I was outraged. Very little gets me to that point. But I can say that I sympathized with the outrage and thought at best, her decision to post that poem and her bewilderment at the response showed a real lack of wisdom and empathy and common sense.
She made reference to this incident in the video I posted above. She’s a great storyteller and her speeches can spark feelings of wonder and understanding and depth. However, it’s only in the fog of feel-goodism and self-indulgence that one can allow themselves to be taken in by her explanation. One must suspend all moral reasoning to not see the irony of her story and the bankruptcy of better sense.
To summarize her speech, she starts by talking about a child who is on a science field-trip who gets distracted by his wonder at the world around him, his artistic side connecting the dots between the similarities between the cracks in the ice and the lines in the leaves. The kid is yanked out of his wandering moment of mind by a teacher who says, it’s not time for that right now, it’s time for science. She states that maybe the kid will become an astronaut (oh God forbid!) instead of developing his artistic self.
This eventually comes full circle when she experiences what many experienced with the Boston bombings. Within a week, she decided, without much thought (not surprised) to post a free-thought blog/poem where she, like the child on the field-trip, connected the dots in empathizing with the bomber who was caught hiding in a boat. She empathized with his fear. And she connected the dots about those who were pointing the finger out of anger and those pointing the finger out of fear and noticing the similarities.
Clearly because of the timing and insensitivity of the post, people were understandably angry and she received a lot of negative attention. But when she attended a show, a fellow concert attendee thanked her for writing the poem. And she felt a sense of validation and, I suppose, felt justified in posting it. I think the overall message of her speech was that, you’re going to get criticism no matter what you do and lovers as well, but you need to be open and you need to keep making your art. And I can agree with that general message. However, I have to condemn her post on the Boston bomber and the implied message of creating art regardless of the consequences.
Have you ever met or listened to a fire expert and you come away thinking that the possibility of a fire should be your number one concern and everything in your house and everything you do needs to have that at the forefront of your mind? Or after listening to an earthquake expert feel like you need to move and make sure everything in your house is bolted down. Or a martial artist that you come away from thinking that you’re constantly in danger?
Many people become lost in their professions or lost in the way they identify themselves. They become so involved in what they do that common sense seems to fly out the window. And in Amanda Palmer’s case, she identifies herself as an artist. Everything she does and says is through the eyes of an artist and therefore license to do anything and everything, it seems, is hers for the taking because the ends seems to justify the means. She can write that poem because someone will thank her for doing it in the end. She can empathize with a man who murdered many and mangled many others at the expense of indifference to those who truly suffered because, it’s art after all. She’s just connecting the dots. And she’s deep. And she’s going to open your mind to how deep she is by showing you that this guy is in a bad situation and feels normal human emotions that all of us feel. And there’s not much difference between the anger and fear that people feel towards the bomber and there’s not much difference between the fingers pointed at the bomber and the fingers pointed at Amanda Palmer.
The interesting thing to me is that in her story about the kid, she comes away thinking, the kid should be more like me and not, I should have learned something from the kid. When she was telling her story, I’ll admit, there’s part of me that says, awww..let the poor kid wonder and play. But the adult in me says, NO, that kid NEEDS to learn the message! There is a time for art and there is a time for science. Because you can connect the dots later. But right now, you’re on a science field trip. You need to pay attention to what is going on. If all you are is an artist and you can be completely selfish and self-indulgence, then go ahead, reinforce to the kid that he doesn’t need to pay attention to the science field trip. He can just do whatever HE wants to do, everyone else be damned. But that’s not the way the real world works. He’s going to have to be considerate of his class and his teachers and his parents and time. He is going to need to understand, the world doesn’t revolve around him. And that developing a sense of appropriateness, manners, morals, consideration and maybe finding a love of science so great that he becomes an astronaut is a great and important thing to himself, his growth as a human being, as an individual and as a member of society. Because we all know that what we have way too much of are kids interested in science and not enough kids who want to play music, write stories and draw. (yeah, that’s sarcasm)
There is ancient wisdom from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that was used in a popular song by The Byrds. Whether you are religious or not, I think the wisdom of the passage stands.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes Chapter 3)
But according to Amanda Palmer, all this should be disregarded. If you have a whim, some wonder, some artistic inspiration, you just need to go with it. And that’s what she did. She thought to herself, that little boy shouldn’t have been told to pay attention to his science field trip. And she shouldn’t feel any sense of moral responsibility or consideration for those who just had their loved ones murdered and mangled.
SELFISH & SELF-INDULGENT!
While it is my belief that any time for her to post such a sentiment would be in poor taste and morally confused, at the very least, she could have waited. That would have been the sensitive thing to do. That would have been the sympathetic and empathetic thing to do. But she didn’t wait. Everyone else be damned, she feels inspired.
To add a level of ridiculousness of the incident, she then had to deal with the backlash of being inundated with negative comments and twitter posts. She tweeted words of shock & surprise. So, you’re going to write a poem empathizing with the most hated man in America a week after he murdered and injured dozens and you’re surprised at the reaction? Uh…common sense? Where did you go?
Finally, after a trying week, she gets a sense of validation by a lady thanking her for writing her post. Now, I can’t know how deeply that anonymous concert goer was affected. Was she just a fan that wanted to exchange words with Mrs. Palmer? Did she actually care? I have no idea. But even assuming that Amanda Palmer’s pretty bad poem (by her own admittance) helped that anonymous lady, does that somehow make up for what I’m sure are many more that she insulted, hurt and enraged? This is a case of the ends justifying the means. So no matter who gets hurt along the way, as long as you can feel good about how it ended up, then you were justified in your actions. This is moral confusion. It’s true that no matter what you do as a creator of music or art, there is always the chance that someone will be offended or that someone won’t like what you do. You can’t be so safe in what you do because art should be able to challenge your thinking and be provocative, though I find that the best art elevates. But I think generally speaking, no matter what you do whether you are a singer, a songwriter, a construction worker or a teacher, you should always ask yourself if what you do will do good. Will your actions contribute good to the world? Or at the very least, will your actions do more good than harm. I think it’s very difficult to argue that her post helped more than it hurt.
I’m not here to judge Amanda Palmer’s heart. We judge ourselves by our motivations but we judge others by their behaviors. As I said before, I think she’s talented, interesting and inspirational. However, I think her post lacked good moral sense, I think her timing lacked real consideration and sympathy and her reaction to the outrage showed a lack of wisdom and common sense. I think she could use a little of that so that she can see the irony of her speech. I hope the little boy connecting the dots learned the lesson that Amanda Palmer failed to learn; there is an appropriate time for everything. You can still be an artist but not be blind by your own artistic inspirations and motivations. You can be a true artist and not be deaf to wisdom and common sense.