Do Artists Really Need an Audience?

Interesting conversation with a musician friend of mine last night. He expressed the view that playing music is an end-in-itself. It’s all about the sheer joy of playing. Who needs an audience?

I could appreciate the sentiment, but I couldn’t agree.

Sure, making art is it’s own joy, and lord knows I experience deep satisfaction when I’m deep in the thrall of a gripping writing project.

But if no one but me ever read it? Hmm.

There are all kinds of examples of rebel artists and musicians who will claim they don’t give a rat’s dirty patootie about the audience—that they are just creating for their own sake. What I think they mean is that they don’t care to pander to audience tastes. Again, I appreciate and admire the sentiment.

But I think, if they’re being honest, they really do care, on some deep, dark level maybe, that someone else hears it, or sees it… and likes it.

Artists, I think, are people trying to escape their own brain-casing and find like souls. They have a deep-seated need to say something. To express. To connect.

And for someone to hear what they are saying. To express to. To connect with.

Sure, it’s not about fame or riches or the size of the audience. That would be shallow. It’s about connecting with people. Preferably other bizarre, twisted people like them who see and hear the world in their peculiar, f-ed up way.

(Possibly this is why so many artists who DO achieve fame go through a dark, jaded period where they question and/or sabotage it all. They wanted to connect with like-minded souls, but instead they found thousands or millions of maniacal, drooling, fawning idiots. It’s probably a disappointment on a cosmic-spiritual scale.)

If you were creating in a dark room your whole life, with no one to appreciate your genius but you, sure you might experience the joy of learning something, of getting better at it, and possibly even creating something important to you.

But without communicating it to others, you wouldn’t be an artist.

To an artist, this would be Purgatory.

The Difference Between a Hobbyist and an Artist

I think this is the crucial thing separating a hobbyist from an artist.

A hobbyist tinkers and fiddles and produces something very pleasing to themselves.

An artist works, and creates, and feels a deep longing that others will see, hear, read, and understand what they’re trying to say.

Let’s imagine a scenario: an alien species invades Earth and vaporizes everyone—except anyone with any artistic talent. These aliens particularly hate human art, so they have a special hell planned for musicians, writers, actors, and the like: they will put them into individual pods and launch them out into the blackness of space. They will survive comfortably in their pods. But they will never again be seen, never rescued, essentially drifting in nothingness until they die, never to see another living soul again while they live.

A hobbyist, presumably, would be perfectly content in their drifting space pod, provided they had a guitar, or a set of art supplies, or an unlimited supply of paper and pens. No problemo. Suck on that, evil aliens.

Not so to an artist. This would be the very embodiment of Hell. To know they had time to create something so deeply important to them, even masterful, and to know that no one would ever see it and it would die with them… they would go mad or commit suicide first.

Can you imagine a brilliant actress who didn’t care to ever appear in plays or movies, who instead just “acted” to her bathroom mirror her whole life? Or a kid who taught himself how to be a genius batter who never once played in a baseball game?

How about a brilliant lightning or sound designer who never once displayed their talents in a public show or event? They might as well be flicking a bedroom light switch on an off.

I have no doubt (because I’ve met them) that there are absolute genius hobbyists, tinkering away in their own basements, singing in their bathrooms, writing away at their laptops, who have no intention of ever sharing that genius with the world.

Power to them. Listen, I don’t think they “owe” their talent to the world. If they’re truly happy, it’s all good.

But if you are one of these genius hobbyists, I ask you this, and please be honest: is it enough?

Would you really be happy in the alien pod? Is there a screaming, clawing artist inside that hobbyist head, trying to get out, to connect with others, to share their unique gift with the world?

If so, just consider you might be an artist after all.

Share it with us.

(Don’t worry, we won’t tell the aliens.)

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