Why do audiences matter?

Art for the sake of art. I have never believed in this concept. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t to say that I am right. Art is incredibly subjective. But I have never believed in creating art for the sake of creating art. Marketing has taught me that there should always be a purpose to creation and that is where the ever important audience comes in.


Much to the dismay of my English teachers, I have never been one to start an essay with a definition. And for this article on selling out I am not going to break that habit. Rather than the definition, I am going to use the first example that I came across when researching selling out. E.g. A musician who alters his material to encompass a wider audience.

There has long been an association between art and exclusivity. Art is all the more precious when the audience member can be part of an elite few who truly understand the work whether it is a song, a painting, a dance or a piece of theatre. When everyone can get the message then it is populist and commercial. But is this really what creates great art today?

Great art communicates a moving message. Something that causes the audience to reflect or relate with a certain idea that will add meaning to their life. Whether this idea relates to acceptance, love, anger or humour doesn’t matter. What matters is that people who are exposed to this message have their lives changed in a certain way.

If a piece of art is so exclusive that only an elite few understand the message and have their lives changed, is it really great art?

This isn’t one of those ‘If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, did it make a sound?’ kind of questions. Since great art communicates a message, if it can only be communicated to an elite few it suggests that there is a flaw in the communication. The important message the artist is trying to convey is lost on majority of people whose lives could be changed if they understood it.

Here’s the link to selling out . . .

The example I wrote above about selling out suggests that this occurs when an artist changes their communication style so that it is readily accessible to a much larger audience. Is that really a bad thing?

The message hasn’t changed. But the delivery has! And this is why I don’t believe that an audience-centred approach to art is a bad thing.

The role of artists is to make a contribution to society through conveying exciting ideas and challenging concepts. Rather than starting from a purely artistic standpoint, but throwing in some audience-oriented understanding as well, artists are more likely to create a work that can deliver on this to a larger number of people. Change more people’s lives. Move people in new ways. Stay with them for life.

So why not start with the audience? That is what marketing has taught me. If you want to be influential and provide an audience with a message that will stay with them forever, first you have to put yourself in their shoes to craft a message that will resonate with them in an artistic manner!