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art, nakedness & museums, oh my! (warning: contains ART, NAKEDNESS & MUSEUMS, OH MY!)

hola comrades!!!

business first. it’s high merch season, lots of you want stuff, and lots of you keep asking about WHAT to buy WHERE so that the money goes to me/the band. i’m drafting a huge blog about all of that….heads up. if you have any SPECIFIC questions (where do i get xx? etc), hit me in the comments below, i’ll be scanning while i write this new one.

also, we JUST put the annual HOLIDAY WEIRDNESS and a bunch of other randomness (including some stuff from the “Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer” tour) up on the Post-War Trade merch site (if you’re only looking for the holiday stuff, it’s HERE on bandcamp with a bonus audio download of me reading the “yes virginia” letter from the new york sun).

we kept things simple….just a shirt and (as usual) a personalized card from MOI….
but LOOK AT THE SHIRT. yes. the winner is…


and the HOLIDAY CARD, which i’ll personalize for you (or your lover, or your mom, or your great-great-uncle) up to 140 characters, is an AMAZING photo by pixie, featuring ME IN a DRESS MADE OF SPORKS (thanks to psycho girlfriend). it’s true. you have not lived until you have worn a dress made of sporks:

please try and get your orders in quick – by december 4th, is the best – to make sure i have time to sign and personalize and get them shipped off before me and viggie head down to mexico for the show

and now. the art and the nakedness. the sound and the fury, the living and the dead.

if you didn’t notice the news on twitter or anywhere else….i just did a seriously FUN THING:
i am the recorded voice on the multi-media walk-through guide (the little iPod you can rent to “talk” you through your tour of the exhibit) at the new “Degas and the Nude” exhibit at boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

being an indie rock star in your home town has amazing perks.
but i’d like to think they didn’t just invite me because i’m a local indie rock star. they invited me because i’m 2 NAKED 2 QUIT.
or in more highfalutin terms: i am familiar with the subjective and objective processes of committing stark human-form – sans clothing – to canvas or film.

the beautiful serendipity exploded when i informed the folks at the MFA (MFA/AFP trivia moment alert! MFAAAAAFP!!!!) that i used to be a nude model for a living.
it’s true, little known fact about yours truly. when i was in my early-to-mid twenties, nude modeling at art schools and for community art classes was one of the many ways i hustled dough.
some days were hilarious…i’d go from standing in complete stillness (with clothes on) as a living statue in the streets of harvard square, to standing in a similar position several hours later three blocks away at the cambridge center for adult education…this time indoors, this time with no clothes on, and this time with no control over when I could move or not. one job paid me closer to $50 an hour. one paid $12.50. guess which is which.

part of the reason it’s taken me so long to post this goddam blog is because i wanted to climb under my bed and see if i could dig out the particular shoebox in which i was CERTAIN i had a stack-batch of old nudie photos taken around 2000, during one of the sessions i used to do in dorchester. there’s no photographic evidence of any of the stints that i did at the art schools, because photography was considered a total violation of the space…but there was a group of painters that were more social in nature in a loft in dorchester who would pay me $50 for the night to model for about three hours while everybody got stoned, listened to great music, drew, and generally just hung out. this was one of my favorite jobs.

i found the pictures….they’re taken by  a dude named scott fergusen who always had a camera around, and would take shots of the models (with permission) while the painters painted or sketched. i never minded. though i did NOT like taking my clothes off if it was cold. THAT i did not like.

but i loved modeling…i loved the challenge of finding creative poses and holding them, and i simply loved, loved, loved (is this news?) being naked.




different decade, same belly.

that belly is just 2 legit 2 quit.

same bat-time, same bat-belly.

oh no, i feel another shirt coming on.

if you’re not shy, and you need quick cash…i recommend figure modeling. you’ll get to stand around naked and get paid. not as much dough as stripping, but much more acceptable to mum and dad. maybe, i guess, depends on your family. anyway….for reals, art schools and community art classes are always looking for models. call and ask. get started on this naked revolution. the whole world is watching. occupy canvas.

back to the story.

the MFA called me in the spring to see if i could do the voice recording over the summer, but i was going to be in edinburgh right around the time they wanted me to record the script. no worries: they just rented a studio and an engineer in scotland and one day – desperate to escape from my life, i might add (it was a dark couple of weeks) – i hopped in a cab and went to a studio called finiflex in leith, where i read beautifully written script by sandy goldberg. i added my own little personal stories, while the MFA folks (who were super nice) listened in, and gave direction and feedback.


i have to say: i was terrified that this would be a dry and boring project….i’ve never in my life used a multi-media guide, and i’ve often wondered what the hell they actually contain.
up until now, i’ve always seen old people using them at museums and assumed that the voice on the other end was reciting a dry list of facts delivered in a monotone voice (and here’s the kicker) TELLING ME WHAT TO DO…but there goes my judgmental self, i’d never actually tried one. it turns out to be quite an art form in and of itself, as i discovered, and the quality of the multi-media guide really depends on the quality of the people putting it together…and the reader, of course (hi) and most of all: the script writer.

this script was AWESOME. again, sandy NAILED it.


if you’re in boston or the boston area, i highly recommend checking out the show: it’s BEAUTIFUL, and the museum is worth a visit in it’s own right…
i sort of take it for granted having been there dozens of times as a bostonite. info on the show is HERE. if you’re between 7-17, admission is FREE at certain times, and like most museums there’s a student discount.

i think a good art exhibit – any art in any setting, really – leaves you desperate to make things….your own things.
this exhibit did that to me when i went.

neil & i were honored to be given a private tour of the exhibit by the curator, george t.m. shackelford, a kind southern gentleman who guided us through the rooms of nudes with a passion and pride so effusive and yet so humble, it was as if he’d painted these masterpieces himself…or modeled in them. hehe. he was so incredibly in love with the art; and it showed. this exhibit is his baby – he’d conceptualized it years ago, and has been putting his heart and soul into collecting the pieces together all in one place for ages…and we saw him the week it opened. i should have brought him a cigar.
he was also my audio-mate…the multi-media guide is predominantly my voice edited together with his. i give the drama, he gives the education.


i’ve been to hundreds of museums at this point, but i’d never gone through an exhibit and given so much thought to the personnel, the labor, and the artistry behind it.
why did they choose to construct this room this particular way? why put this painting here, and not there? how to lead the eye, the soul, the story from one thing to another?

especially in an exhibit like this, which pulls you through an entire LIFETIME of ONE aspect of an artist’s work….? incredible.

while listening to george wax passionate about the placement of the statues (if you pay attention, they do magical things, like line up with the paintings that relate to them, like the three desert locations in that sacred coin from indiana jones), i got this incredible urge to paint.

that’s what good concerts always do to me: make me want to leave, so i can go home and write.

that’s george on the far left, telling me and neil about the finer details of degas’ work….(this one is called “interior”):

here’s the narration from the script that goes along with the painting above:
…On the bureau to the left in the background, we see the man’s hat. On the floor is the woman’s corset -­‐ and an ominous shadow behind the man, on the door. There’s such a feeling of tension; but Degas doesn’t give us a clear sense of what has happened – or maybe is about to happen? – in this room.

like i said, this shit was fun to read.
the exhibit isn’t limited to degas…in fact, it’s illuminated perfectly with contrasting (and influential) works by contemporaries and heroes of degas.
the exhibit tells you the story of a man throughout a lifetime exploration of the nude human body, with and against the acceptable cultural norms.

here’s a great excerpt from the script….in the format i read it from the paper, regarding the painting above (that neil & i are looking at) and a contemporary painting, by gervex:
AMANDA PALMER NARRATION: We can see that the first thing that Degas started figuring out was the lights and darks: the way the light from the window will touch on the body and create shadows in the room. It depicts a private, introspective moment. It’s so different from the painting next to it, with the nude woman splayed across the bed. That one is by a friend of Degas, Henri Gervex.

GEORGE SHACKELFORD: [44:36] This painting depicts a scene from a literary work in which Rolla, the hero, the man standing at the window, is driven crazy by the sex goddess that he’s taken on as his girlfriend, Marion.

AMANDA PALMER NARRATION: In the poem, Rolla has ruined himself financially and emotionally by pursuing Marian, who is a prostitute. As the dawn breaks, he’s contemplating suicide.


Think back to Degas’ painting called “Interior” that you saw earlier in the exhibition…Degas included a corset on the floor…Looking back to Gervex’s painting, you’ll notice a petticoat, front and center. It’s been tossed aside. Years later, Gervex said that it was Degas who told him to put it there – as well as the corset to the right. He recalled Degas saying, quote “You have to make them understand that ‘your’ woman is not a model! Where’s the dress she’s taken off? Put a corset on the floor!”


here’s another drawing … called “the serious client”. these were sketches/drawings that degas did in (or from memory of being in..heeehee) the brothels…and not the upmarket ones. these were never exhibited…they were made from friends (and lovers?)…and to see them now up on the walls of the MFA feels like a nice coup for the advancement of society.


and here’s the excerpt from the script, i loved reading this one:
The woman seems to be coaxing the man, in his bowler hat and little mustache. He leans on a thin umbrella – which some see as Degas joking about the size of the shy man’s other, shall we say…. equipment. There’s a sense of caricature to some of the female figures, too. Take your time perusing all the brothel works in this area. There are groupings of women interacting with clients; women preparing for or waiting for clients; and women enjoying each other sexually without clients.

oh my beloved….looking at the art:

here’s a video of me & neil getting george’s tour through the exhibit…it’ll give you abetter sense of the whole space, and also includes some of the sculptural pieces.
i also talk about modeling and the realization that seeing paintings and art IN REAL LIFE is very different from seeing them reproduced in books (or…on the internet):

and lo, i’d thought it would be a lovely idea to get naked and have neil do a drawing while we were there. we brought supplies, care of lee at home.

i’d suggested it to our hosts, and they were game: i would be the model, neil would be my pastel renderer.
neil’s actually a quite good drawer, i know because i see him draw sometimes.
i think, like me, he could have been a truly great drawer if he’d wanted to be…he would up being a writer, instead.
i stopped being a figure model.
i wound up being a musician.
but i still take my clothes off constantly.
it’s the way we’re built, i think.
neil keeps his on constantly.

the folks at the MFA were that wonderful combination of excited and terrified. i doubt many people ask to get naked in the gallery.
but man, this was great PR, and honestly how awesome is it to have your husband draw a nude pastel of you surrounded by arguable the best nude drawings in the world?

the only problem was with the security cameras…they insisted on turning them off in the gallery if i was going to have an art party in my birthday suit.
but they couldn’t turn JUST specific cameras off…so they sent in a bunch of staff with ladders to cover the cameras up with coffee cups.
i made lots of jokes about how my friends at museum security, who’d already paid me $50 for the degas strip show i’d promised – were going to be sorely disappointed.

security cameras were covered, sigh….
and off we went.



…to pose…

…for my beloved….

…who drew…

…and drew.


looking through my old figure drawing photos from when i was 23….
this one caught me:

yep. same bat time, same bat pose….ten+ years later.
nice back, palmer.


nice hair, gaiman.

here’s one of the finished pastels neil did – he only drew for about ten minutes because he had to run away (literally) and do THIS.

i love him.

so neil headed off, leaving me in possession of his drawings.

it was unclear what we should do with them, so i just left in in safekeeping with the MFA, who put them in their archive.
now neil can say his artwork is archived in one of the finest museums in the world. hot DAMN. that worked….

go to the exhibit if you’re in boston-town…’s up til february 5th.

if not, just strip down and get your boyfriend/husband/whoever to draw your nekkid body, and tweet me the results.


all hail degas and all the other freaks of the universe who love rendering the body in its neutral milk state!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


p.s. speaking of nakedness and drawing…bet you didn’t know i’m actually a pretty good drawer. here’s a photo of one of my favorite statues at the MFA…it’s cleopatra, sculpted by thomas gould:
via flickr

i drew this pencil sketch of the same statue, over two days sitting on the floor of the MFA, back in my early twenties, in the days when i had nothing better to do than sit around in museums on free-entry-wednesdays and sketch shit:

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