megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
[personal profile] megwrites
Art has a price, both for the artist and for the culture in which that art is created. Sometimes that price is higher for one than the other, especially into relation to what a culture gets out of it. For me, as an artist and viewer of many types of art, this factors into whether that art is what I would consider 'good' or not.

For the record, I believe that ethics and artistry not only do go hand and hand but when divorced create nothing but monstrosity. You can explore the outer darkness of ethics-free art if you like. You have that right, at least in the place where I live (up to a point), but I won't be there with you and I definitely don't think it will ever be anything that's worth what it will cost.

Case in point?

Let us do a study in Amanda Palmer vs. Erykah Badu and the cost of their art.

For those who don't know, there is controversy around both these artists. Amanda Palmer for both her Evelyn, Evelyn project and a statement on twitter critiquing product placement in Lady Gaga's and Beyonce's video "Telephone" and Erykah Badu's video for "Window Seat" in which she walks through Dealey Plaza, the site of President Kennedy's assassination, stripping until she is completely nude and then shot [Trigger warning: disturbing image of a simulated assassination, may be disturbing to some viewers.].

Both have generated their detractors and supporters, both have raised hackles, both have been there to make statements, both are part of what these artists consider their art or their theory of how art should be.

I will say now I consider Badu's works and statements to be what good art should be. I think Amanda Palmer's to be the opposite.

I say this because it occurs to me that the price paid for Badu's works was paid by the artist herself. When a body was put on the line, exposed, viewed, centered, it was hers. When there was a body to be held to the inevitable and often cruel scrutiny of the internet, of the world, when it was time to cause statements and thoughts and opinions to be formed of a body, a gender, a race, an ability, a person, she chose herself.

For that bravery, that courage, that intelligence, that truth I cannot begin to commend or celebrate Badu enough.

And she has paid a price. Both in controversy, criticism, and legal reprocussions, including a charge for disorderly conduct.

I contrast this with the Evelyn, Evelyn project for which Amanda Palmer chose other bodies, not her own body. She chose the bodies of the disabled. When the people to whom such bodies belong raised their voices to tell her that her decision to use their type of bodies in her project had ramifications for them, she remov[ed] the disabled feminists from her mental periphery, @amandapalmer sat down to plan her next record.

I contrast this to Palmer's criticism of product placement of in Lady Gaga and Beyonce's video. Because when it came time to invoke the name of something, to bring up painful, still horribly relevant, powerful history, she chose the KKK. She chose the oppression of people of color - other people - to be her tool. When it came decision time, that was her choice. Not to put herself on the line, not to press herself to make better choices, less hurtful choices. She used comparisons to one of the most devastating domestic terrorism and hate-based groups in this nation's long history of race-based hate and outright attempts at genocide because it was "ironic". When it came time to make a statement about the things that have happened to the victims of these groups, these people swept up in evil and hate and the filth that comes when one group starts denying the humanity of another group, her choice of vocabulary was "ironic". This is doubly compounded as being disgusting and inexcusable given that her statement equates irony with Beyonce giving money to an organization that very clearly desire to see her and people like her dead.

Amanda Palmer sees the image of bodies hanging from trees, the image of a body bound and burning at the feet of that person's murderers and she finds it ironic.

And not just ironic, but laughable. When presented with evidence that her choice of words was ill-thought out, her response? for those of you out there who can't bear the thought of the ku klux klan used'll LOVE this!! - as if the pain, suffering, death, oppression and injustice suffered by so many at the hands of people who hid behind white masks could be answered with more "irony" with a link to a video from Jerry Springer the Musical.

I do not know either of these artists personally, I do not know their intents, their inner thoughts, their personal selves. I know only what they say in my hearing, only what I can see of their works and deeds in public. That is all I can judge, and I can say this:

In Badu's video I find an embarrassment of riches of things that have caused me to think about oppression, about awareness, about society, about myself, about what I do, about what I contribute to or don't contribute to enough. That video has made me think of the way in which the media talks about and treats Black women's bodies, about the ways these bodies in all their shapes and sizes and shades and forms have historically and are presently so often used as grist for a mill. Told they are sex objects but not really as attractive as other bodies, told they are comical in relationship to other women's bodies, especially white ones. So much is said by others about their skin, their hair, their faces, their genitals.

I am made to think, via this video, how I contribute to that system as a white woman. What have I said and done to reinforce that stereotype. When I see the willingly, powerfully opened image of Badu's body in front of me, what do I think? Is this thinking that has been drilled into me? What barriers are placed between me and the compassion for another woman's body, for the things that we share, the struggle we have in common, and the differences that I ought to be celebrating not by denying but by honestly saying, "Yes, Erykah Badu, you are beautiful" and meaning it and know it for the truth it is.

I am made to think about what the site of her video means, that she overlays the site tied to the history and assassination of President Kennedy with the artistically rendered (and thankfully NOT real) assassination of herself. Is this post-mortem praise of Kennedy, who was troubled and promising in turns? Is this the declaration that in the history of a time and place thought of white and male, the black and the female existed, exists, will exists. Is this a bold stake, to say that we have worshipped the ground where one man died without realizing how many other men and women have died unremarked? What does this mean, what does this say about fame, about history, about cultural recollections, about the way we piece together the stories of how we were?

This video made me think very hard about my attitudes toward nudity and the body in general, and the reactions of the crowd, about what it means when a woman - of any color - owns her body so completely and what it means when society is offended by this. I am left with so many swirling thoughts in my head about why it is acceptable when a woman's body is bared for the purposes of others - in movies, music videos, television shows, even medical imagery - but when she uses the power of her own self, her own being for her purposes and her purposes alone, that offends so greatly that charges must be laid against her.

I could go on for days the topics and thoughts and awareness that is in my mind because of that video, I really, really could. This wealth was made available to me by Badu paying a cost, opening herself not when asked, but at the time and place of her choosing. There is such a fierce dignity, a ferocious intelligence, a searing declaration in her act. To quote a poem by e.e. cummings, there is something faithful and mad. That video makes me want to write poetry about it, about so many things. Badu could only have been too aware of the risk she took both large and small (and even in that, so many thoughts and statements about the cost of just existing openly as a Black woman in our society!), of the stir it would cause, of the backlash that would come storming down to find her.

The scene of the assassination in the video is powerful for me and I will post a trigger warning for it, because I know it can be disturbing for those who have seen and lived with the legacy of bodies like her shot down, not in art, but in reality. I certainly felt a visceral jump, a hard twitch of my body, the flight response in myself sparked for just a moment at the crack of a gun and the fall of a body that I had become attached to, a body I had come to see as worthy and beautiful and, as the mark says, "evolving". But even in her (again, thankfully) fake death, there is something unteneable and true and I'm running out of words because this goes beyond my vocabulary, this forces me to learn more, to speak a better tongue.

To be fair I have not followed closely how Badu is responding to those who found her video obscene or absurd or dismissable, but I do not know that so far her responses have not been so hurtful as to become internet controversy.

I know that there are so many things in Badu's video relating to Blackness, to being a woman of color, things that I will miss entirely because I come from a privileged, white point of view. But even my privileged self, who's privileges have come at her expense, am free to view this and think of it, to accept or reject, to hate or love as I will. I know the cost of such a bold thing was paid, almost entirely in full, by Badu herself. When statements and opinions and hateful responses about Black people and women are made, Badu will be the one getting hit in the face.

As I know that with Palmer's projects and statements, there are things I might miss because I am able bodied, because I am privileged as Palmer is herself. I know that I have been made to think about the ways I think of disabled bodies and about the history of racial violence and murder in this country. I have been forced to examine myself, to see the ways in which I am no better (or maybe worse) than Palmer. But when the time came and is still coming that opinions about the disabled, about them speaking up for themselves are formed, when people insult and laugh at and ignore and disregard the disabled, accuse them of faking it or belittle them, or use them as tools to be "inspirational" to able people, it will not be Palmer who bears that cost, who gets hit in the face. When it comes time for people to handwave away murder and torture and the history of racial violence in this nation and how the images and words connected with it still hurt for some but are meaningless for others, Palmer will not be hurt by that. Palmer will not pay the price for it. Palmer will surf the wave of controversy and sadly free publicity to interviews and sales and she will laugh all the way to her bank.

Because it comes down to this, as I've said before. When the price for art and statements about art came around, Badu paid up, in full, on time, and without hesitation from her own metaphorical coiffers, and it is becoming a steep price. Palmer passed the buck onto those who have already paid so much for the statements and "art" and "irony" of others. The price is steep, but she is not and never will truly be on the hook for it. Because she chose other bodies, other selves to put in the line of fire.

That is part of what I believe divides good art from bad art. The good artist pays up out of their own pocket and does not ask others to sacrifice to unwillingly, unknowingly things for them, does not force people to become participants in something by virtue of ramification. The bad artist? Makes sure the check goes to another table, makes sure they get a free ride, ropes people into being part of their art whether they want to or not.

The good artist is not afraid to do what is brave, what is true, to sacrifice from the self. The bad artist is only too willing sacrifice anyone but themselves.

ETA: As reminded in comments, I have edited the entry to make sure I reflect that Beyonce, a Black artist, collaborated with Lady Gaga on the telephone video, and that, as stated in comments, it makes Palmer's remarks concerning the KKK that much worse.

Date: 2010-04-06 12:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Incredible piece! Thank you! (am linking)

I will be thinking about it and come back when I'm more coherent and able to respond.

Date: 2010-04-06 12:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you. Thank you so much.

I am one of those who won't be paying for Palmer's actions because I'm neither of those groups affected, but still, as an artist, or a wannabe artist, what you say really resonates.

We as artists who have any kind of platform are there to serve our audience, not just ourselves.

Date: 2010-04-06 02:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Beautifully articulated and powerful. Thank for this.

Date: 2010-04-06 02:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else's liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back." -- Peter S. Beagle

The only thing I will add to your righteous takedown of Amanda Palmer: the "Telephone" video she is dissing co-stars Beyonce. Saying that it would be "ironic" for Beyonce to support the KKK goes way beyond misuse of language, and into "fighting words". Don't erase the actual black person from the discussion of her work and its reception.

Date: 2010-04-06 02:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Don't erase the actual black person from the discussion of her work and its reception.

You're completely, utterly right and I am very ashamed that I did that without even realizing it. I have edited the entry to make sure I reflect this better, because it extremely relevant and not something I should have overlooked. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Date: 2010-04-06 02:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Scorching. Your tone never rises above a shout, but the words just burn off the page.

Date: 2010-04-06 03:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, this is so powerful and true. &hearts Thank you for writing this.

(Linking, because it is just that awesome.)

Date: 2010-04-06 04:57 pm (UTC)
kerri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kerri
The good artist is not afraid to do what is brave, what is true, to sacrifice from the self. The bad artist is only too willing sacrifice anyone but themselves.

Yes, this. Someone somewhere else said that they always respected Amanda Palmer's controversial actions in the past, because they revolved around things that had happened to her, like rape. But this time around it isn't her own experience, and she's not listening to anyone else.

Date: 2010-04-07 10:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, this. At first I was giving her the benefit of the doubt, but then the "Black ass" thing just showed that she wasn't interested in listening as she was in annoying other people using things that are not hers. And as a performance artist from a racial minority, it hit my breaking point.

Thanks, all of you.

Date: 2010-04-20 05:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Um, yeah.

There's that scene in Huckleberry Finn,
when someone asks Huck if anyone was hurt in an explosion,
and he replies, "No, Ma'am, just killed a n_____."

It's one thing to cite that as an example of societal attitudes which obviously still exist,
and quite another to repeat it as an amusing anecdote in itself.

She's not grasping that what she's doing is entirely the latter,
and not at all the former.

Date: 2010-04-08 04:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Agreed. I'm a former fan, and I always felt like she was an outspoken ally of marginalized people... so much of her music was speaking from her experience, and a lot of people related to that. I think that's why it disappointed me so much when she didn't grasp why her recent actions were so insulting.

Date: 2010-04-20 05:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
But, yeah, I think it's a matter of her not grasping what's wrong in what she did.
Although she's certainly not showing much interest in putting things right.

Date: 2010-04-06 05:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is awesome. Thank you.

Date: 2010-04-06 05:38 pm (UTC)
goodbyebird: Batman returns: Catwoman seen through a glass window. (Carnivale Iris)
From: [personal profile] goodbyebird
Thank you for posting this.

Date: 2010-04-07 12:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for this.

Date: 2010-04-07 12:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Great, great post. Thank you.

Date: 2010-04-07 01:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I appreciated the reading of the Badu video you provided very much. And I respect how you wove that critical analysis along with your own emotional reactions to both artists.

Date: 2010-04-07 03:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You nailed these disparities in a very powerful way. Thank you for writing this.

Date: 2010-04-07 07:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is an absolutely brilliant piece of analysis, thank you for this. I agree with every point in here and will go to bed with more thoughts on this, to be sure.

(My one small nitpick is that I'm not sure 'coffers' has an 'i' in it...)

Date: 2010-04-07 11:59 am (UTC)
chomiji: A cartoon image of chomiji, who is holding a coffee mug and a book and wearing kitty-cat ears (kukaku-kaboom!)
From: [personal profile] chomiji

Very well written. I think this brings together several valid themes that you've been mentioning recently and makes a whole that's even stronger than those components.

I definitely agree.

Date: 2010-04-07 02:00 pm (UTC)
ext_1788: Photo of Lirael from the Garth Nix book of the same name, with the text 'dzurlady' (Default)
From: [identity profile]
This was a really interesting post and I found your argument quite easy to follow. Thanks for making it.

Date: 2010-04-07 11:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This was a gorgeous, incredible essay. A friend linked my here, and I'm glad she did. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Date: 2010-04-08 12:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"That is part of what I believe divides good art from bad art. The good artist pays up out of their own pocket and does not ask others to sacrifice to unwillingly, unknowingly things for them, does not force people to become participants in something by virtue of ramification. The bad artist? Makes sure the check goes to another table, makes sure they get a free ride, ropes people into being part of their art whether they want to or not. "

Elegant and true.

Date: 2010-04-08 12:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is beautifully written and extremely powerful. Thank you.

Date: 2010-04-08 01:02 am (UTC)
ext_2888: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Beautifully put. Thank you for translating your emotions and thoughts into words; they very closely parallel what I felt but could not say for myself.

Date: 2010-04-08 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is an amazing post. Thank you.

Date: 2010-04-08 04:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This was a really interesting piece and you wrote a lot of what I wanted to express. I've been following Amanda Palmer's continuing problematical statements and actions with some interest (it's been an education on ableism which I'm glad I got). It was really interesting, for me, to see her actions compared to those of Erykah Badu.

Palmer's latest blog again seems to be making a bit of a privilaged statement to me (although I'm just learning so I could be mistaken) when she titles her song about her sexuality with a lyric from N.W.A.'s "Fuck Tha Police" and then pre-empts discussion of this titling with "before any of you get up in arms about the title (peoples gettin’ mighty sensitive lately) please know: the title is a reference to a lyric in a song called “fuck tha police” by a band called Niggaz With Attitude. look it up." [italics mine] source (

Edit: I'm sorry I should have put in the actual song title which is “You Swear To Tell The Truth The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass”.

Date: 2010-04-08 06:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Such an interesting post and great analysis. I'm glad I was linked to this blog- very thought provoking stuff (that I had somehow missed completely, heh).

The good artist is not afraid to do what is brave, what is true, to sacrifice from the self. The bad artist is only too willing sacrifice anyone but themselves.

Very well put, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Date: 2010-04-08 06:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much for writing this -- I thought it was fascinating & eye-opening. ♥

Date: 2010-04-08 01:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What an illuminating comparison. Thank you so much for writing this.

Date: 2010-04-10 05:40 am (UTC)
exbentley: (UM)
From: [personal profile] exbentley
This is interesting to me because it implies Palmer has made the move from 'Good Art' to 'Bad Art', given most of her career before Evelyn Evelyn hinged on using her own body, including nudity (before she was Internet Famous she was pretty well-known for nude photoshoots that defied various beauty standards) depictions of her death (ala the Who Killed Amanda Palmer photoshoot and various video clips that accompanied that album) and very personal lyrics and anecdotes about rape, child abuse, and being a woman.

I don't want to defend Palmer's twitter comments at all, and I loved this comparison, but it makes me sad and angry that previously the price Badu pays for her statements is one Palmer seemed to be equally willing to shell out before her days of international/internet celebrity.

Date: 2010-04-20 05:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah. I don't think she yet recognizes what she's done wrong.
Well, no, I'm not personally acquainted with her,
but she's never struck me as one who would be disingenous.

Date: 2010-04-10 06:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have Palmer's solo album- it's great. Your post eloquently describes why I won't be buying her Evelyn Evelyn album. What's frustrating to watch is that she repeatedly shuts herself off from acknowledging the major missteps she's taken. I realize that to admit she made a mistake, or didn't think about the subjects of her new project from the perspective of those who are disabled, could be detrimental to her success. But she is hiding behind the lines of "misunderstanding" her life and what not. At least everyone else is able to have a meaningful discussion about her actions. The KKK comment just floored me.

Thanks for writing and sharing this.

Date: 2010-04-20 05:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I suspect she'd be willing to admit to the mistake if she could comprehend it.
But honestly, I'm only guessing. And I have no idea which is worse,
not knowing she's done wrong, or not caring.

Date: 2010-04-12 03:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] softestbullet (from


Date: 2010-04-20 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I must admit, I could not have said it better myself.
Hm. Come to think of it, I didn't.

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