Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, Who is your audience? Is that a question you ever ponder? Should ever ponder?
Tamar Diesendruck, composer
My working assumption is that audience(s) are like me. They have personal histories (and listening histories) and are profoundly shaped by the larger forces by which we have all evolved. I avoid thinking in detail about potential audiences. I believe there are enough people who (like me) go to new music concerts willing to gamble – the experience could be uninspiring or boring but there is always the possibility that one may experience something unexpected, special, that one had not previously imagined, something deep, riveting, and in those rare but (to me) addicting experiences, an experience which continues to resonate well beyond the particular performance. I have had enough such experiences myself to be willing to take the gamble repeatedly.
It is deeply gratifying to have audience members tell me when my music has provided such an experience for them, and extremely moving when people who are hearing new music for the first time have such an experience. But there is no formula for locating those listeners. I trust that if I can make work that deeply interests me (the first audience for it) and it is performed by inspired, committed players (the second audience), then, when open, curious listeners find it in live performance or recording, there will be an audience. If I didn’t believe this it would be difficult to continue working.
Jay Rogers, boxmaker
For me as an artist, the question of who is my audience is essentially a marketing one. It is an important question to ask when I am trying to sell my work, but not when I am trying to make it. In fact it’s a deadly question to ask oneself too early in the creative process. For me at this point in my development, the most important questions to ask are: What is my voice? What am I trying to say? What can I say that only I can say? Am I saying it clearly and honestly? I don’t want to, don’t need to think about who is going to get it; I have to trust that I will find them and they will find me. When I was starting out as a craftsman I tried to identify my audience – that’s what everyone said you should do – and then make things to suit that audience. It was okay while I was acquiring skills and learning about marketing myself, but eventually I realized I was putting the cart before the horse, that I needed to make first, then find my audience. My most important audience for my work is me.
Monica Raymond, playwright and poet
It’s probably been easiest for me to write when I know (or think I know) who my audience is. During the women’s movement, it felt like there was a whole network of temporarily like-minded souls. So it was easy to find places to read and publish. The work had a place to go.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to write a poem on “corporate personhood” for a conference. Occupy Boston had just brought dogs dressed up in suits to a demonstration to protest Citizens United. The idea was “Dogs are more like people than corporations are.” So that inspired “A Talking Dog Speaks to a Corporation.” I knew just who my audience was – and the work wound up in the “Political Poetry” issue of Verse Wisconsin.
But in the end the works that feel the most important to me seem to push out from the inside, regardless of whether there are welcoming hands to receive them. They almost always involve reconfiguring an issue, turning it prismatically so the whole thing is crazy and multi-faceted. I honestly don’t know who they will appeal to – and sometimes I’m surprised. It’s no one constituency. I’m preaching to the unconverted.
Lisa Kessler, photographer
I don’t think in terms of audience or who may be interested in what I’m creating. When I’m making pictures I’m concerned with the subject’s experience, with my own ideas, and with the visual problem solving in the frame. I am the one I have to satisfy and keep interested over time.
I also think of the subjects of my photographs as my audience. This has especially been true for my work with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, and my project on sexual abuse, Heart in the Wound. I grapple with being true to my vision and respectful of the subject’s perspective.
Once it’s time to share the work with the public, I can only hope for an audience that resonates with the art and meaning in my work. What’s fun about Seeing Pink is that it has appealed to a wide and varied audience, from the artful to the academic to the artless. I love that.
Who is your audience? Let us know in the comments. And if you have an idea for a future question you’d like us to ask artists, let us know.
Tamar Diesendruck is a composer whose honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rome Prize, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship, and many others.
Lisa Kessler‘s solo photography show Seeing Pink will be the inaugural exhibition at Fitchburg State University’s new Hammond Hall Art Gallery (thru 3/28, talk and reception 2/12, 5 PM). Another show of her work, In the Pink, will be exhibited at Danforth Art, Museum\School, Framingham, MA (4/5-6/15).
Monica Raymond is a poet, playwright, and multi-disciplinary artist. Her oil pastel on paper “Squares from the Pink Quilt, Patins from the Green Snake” is in the Abstractions show at Cambridge Center for Adult Education.
Jay Rogers is a maker of sculptural boxes and creator of the book “Jay Rogers: Fantasy Architecture.”
Images: Lisa Kessler, THE NUTCRACKERS (2009), Archival digital print, 22×28 in; Jay Rogers, PIRANESI PRISONS SERIES #3 (2010), mahogany, 11h x 18w x 12d in.