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Do You Think About Audience When Creating?

Do You Think About Audience When Creating?

Eric Maisel

Hi, Dr. Maisel: I wonder if it makes sense to create solely for myself or should I take my audience into account? I have the feeling that this is a really complicated question but I don’t know even how to begin thinking about it. Any thoughts?
- Holly Y., Logan, Utah

Let’s look at just one aspect of what you rightly call a complicated question. Should you be thinking about your audience as you create? Yes!—at least in the sense that you would like them to respond to your work. It is hard to maintain a good feeling about what we do unless we can generate some sort of response in some people some of the time.

It would be very ambitious of me to imagine that I can generate a response in you, that I can stop you in your tracks and have you exclaim, “Wow, that was interesting!” But I am exactly that ambitious, and so is everyone else who invests meaning in creating. Not only do we want you to know that a certain injustice exists—we want you to rage against it. Not only do we want you to know that the distant mountains are bluer than you imagined—we want to thrill you with our depiction. We want so much more than to just sell you something—we want to transform you.

Some years ago a blocked painter named Joe came in to see me. He was tired of his current painting style and wanted to try something new. But the ideas he found himself toying with—a series of eggplant paintings, scenes of a ruined barn, and a Miro-esque fantasy made up of certain personal symbols—didn’t impress him much. He could picture the finished products and he liked them well enough, but he didn’t love them. Something was missing but he couldn’t identify what.

We chatted about the idea of aiming for a response in his audience and then we sat down with a pile of art books. I wanted him to refresh his memory about the history of art and to reconnect him with paintings that had provoked a response in him. Many of the paintings we looked at that day he neither liked nor admired. Some seemed wonderful for their time but no longer significant. Joe respectfully put all of those paintings aside and flagged only the ones that actually moved him.

We ended up with the works of four painters arrayed in front of us. (For those of you familiar with the history of art and curious about Joe’s choices, they were Chaim Soutine, Nathan Oliveira, Alice Neel, and Francis Bacon.) I didn’t ask Joe to articulate what he thought that these painters had in common, though the fact that each of them dealt with the human form was one likely thread. I asked him instead to feel what it was like to have a powerful response provoked by visual stimuli. He stared at the paintings; sometimes he shut his eyes. At the end of this process he knew what he wanted to paint.

Next: Finally, Inspiration →

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