It is extremely arrogant and very foolish to think that you can ever outwit your audience.
A Known Audience
I know a choreographer that I’ve worked with for years. We’ve probably done 16 pieces together over a 7 year span. Before I knew him, he’d won an International Choreography competition award. I’ve never understood Art as competition and I asked him about it.
He told me that when he entered the competition that he entered to win. He wanted the award. So, he studied the judges. If one judge was big on technique, then he’d make sure that that was a strong element. If another judge, say, was big on narrative, then he’d incorporate that element. And, as you know, he won.
He knew who his audience was (the judges) and it shaped his work. He wanted to win.
This idea astounded me on one level. Yet, it made sense to me in my own professional work since I always need to know who my audience will be. If it is parents coming to see their kiddies, I’d better make sure their cherubic faces can be seen. If the audience is full of fund-raisers, my work better be “show me the money” with plenty of obvious bells and whistles. If my audience will be hard-core artists, then my work had best be rooted in the choreography and support the dance.
When I began writing for fun to see what direction it may go, one thing hampered me and often kept me from even starting. Who would be reading my work? I might have a message but how would that message be delivered?
When I wrote for magazines, I wrote to be published. I wanted to win. My audience was the theater art-making public but the gate-way was the editor. So, my best pieces were “call-to-arms” pieces; we need to work harder, be less lazy, honor the work, be honest and so on. Editors love that stuff.
But, when I wanted to try some short stories, children’s stories; fear kept me from even starting. Would the well-read see my work as overly simple? Would my desire for sentimentality be judged? Which forum would critique my work as a new writer?
Eventually I wrote six chapters or short stories about a little girl and her adventures with a fairy. I loved my stories!
The first was about how the little girl freed the fairy from being caught up in a clinging vine. The little girl bargained with the fairy for One Favor. Once freed, we learn that the favor was “I want you to be my Best Friend.”
The second was about a monster that was attacking the fairy village. The little girl arrives and finds that it is the neighbor’s puppy, chasing the fairies for fun. She takes the puppy home and the queen of the fairies makes her a princess. So our little girl is now a fairy princess.
The third was about a turtle. The turtle was a king who had lost his crown. To have the time to search the woods, he uses magic to slow down time. They find the Star Wars lunch box with the Legos, Barbie’s, marbles and one tiny little crown which was the king’s. The Turtle King gives the little girl a small stone that when squeezed would slow down time. That night in her Daddy’s lap being read a story, she squeezed the rock so that the time would last forever.
Sentimental and fun. I got past my hurdle by thinking of one person, a friend of mine who would love to read about fairies and little girls and magic. This shaped my work and helped me deliver the material.
Almost all famous art was created with this in mind, knowing the audience. Painters as they went through movements; Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Expressionism, Impressionism, Cubism and on and on where making work in response to other works. While you and I might marvel at Claude Monet’s Water Lilies on it’s own, hung on the wall; it was created as a response to speak to other artists.
Music is the same from old composers to today’s pop music. When Michael Jackson met Paul McCartney to write Say, Say, Say; Michael simply said “lets write a hit.”
You shape your delivery in every day life. If you see someone at the grocery, your language is different for the mom than it is the child. If you are a nurse or a cop or a rock star; you shape your look and language to who your audience is at that moment.
Sure, you can make work “on it’s own” that simply is what it is without intent or purpose. It is very satisfying. Nonetheless, even while doing that work there is an editor (that is you) constantly looking over your shoulder watching you work and judging.
I hear people knock on comic books for the girls all having big boobs and tiny outfits. Those people knock on the artists but you and I know, it is for their audience. The comic book audience … well, I guess they like big boobs on their heroes!
You have a message. You have content. You want to share your ideas. Knowing who your audience will be can free you and give you an avenue for clear delivery.