The Space Between Artist and Audience
There are two sides to creative projects: what the project wants to be, in and of itself, and what we want an audience to perceive and experience. In between there is a space. This space is where the magic happens – where the project communicates to the audience – without us. And where the audience takes over as they create in that space. It’s easy to forget this. Yet, for work to truly live, we need to be mindful of it.
The Work Has Purpose Even Without An Audience
Before we dive in, it’s important to remember that work does not need an audience to matter. As artists, we focus most of our energy in creating the work, giving it everything necessary to survive without us. This is our highest calling, to receive the work, to bring it forth, to nurture it and allow it to emerge through us. The work has meaning simply because it exists. It doesn’t need an audience to have purpose or a place in this world. All those drafts written and put aside in drawers? They matter. They count. Unseen work matters because it exists. (Not to be confused with unfinished work – which may or may not have found its purpose.)
The energy we pour into bringing forth the work is well spent, no matter if anyone sees it or not. On this side of the equation, we allow the work to develop into its fullest form and simply be. When our part is done, we are satisfied and fulfilled because the work stands on its own without us. There is nothing “wrong” in itself with artists bringing forth work that no one else sees. The work’s sole purpose may simply be how it changes the artist.
Yet, most of us want our work to reach an audience.
The Space Between the Work and Audience
Because we want to reach an audience, we usually have an intention behind our work – a reason why we create. We have specific responses we want to elicit in an audience. To entertain, inspire, touch, disturb, raise awareness, incite remembrance, elicit joy, forget, heal, delight, awe – we generally know what we want an audience to experience. So we keep that in mind as we craft our work. We control what we can, calculate where possible, refine and adapt to ensure that audiences respond as we desire. This is our responsibility as artists. What we are paid to do.
But, in our effort to do this, we need to remember the space.
Because the Audience Also Creates
When the work is fully formed and we’ve given it everything possible, there remains a gap. That space between the work and the audience where the audience creates its own experience. The audience interprets meaning, events, intention, and receives the work through the filter of their own experiences and associations. And that’s one thing we cannot control. What is communicated and what is understood can be polar opposites. Which can be why some work fails to generate the response and sales we desire. And certainly why some work, assuming it’s well done, fails to resonate with individual audience members.
But while it is a risk to the artist and investors, this gap is actually something we need to honor. Why? Because this is where the magic happens.
This is where the work can truly touch hearts, minds, souls.
We need to leave audiences enough room to engage in this creation. If we spoon-feed them every aspect, spell-out every meaning, leave nothing of intrigue or uncertainy, we deprive audiences of their ability to receive the full impact of what the work desires to create in them.
As we craft, we need to be mindful to leave spaces where the audience can meet the work on their own terms.