What Does An Audience Owe The Artist?

One of the most interesting aspects of art is the relationship between the artist, who creates the art, and the audience, who interprets it.

The artist obviously has something in mind when they create, no matter if what they create is a piece of music, a painting, or something else altogether. That inspiration may or may not be obvious to the person or people who see the finished work.

The artist and the audience may never meet, and there is no guarantee that someone experiencing the piece will know anything at all about the person who created it. That not only includes who the artist is, but also what they are trying to convey in the work they have created.

However, there is a relationship between creator and consumer. Art is a means of communicating from one person to another, even if that communication is indirect.

Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘How can we maintain wonder?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘How do you think others see you?’

With that in mind, does the audience for a work of art have any responsibility to the artist? Do they owe serious consideration, honest emotion, setting an appropriate context, or even learning about the intention during creation?

Does it vary from artist to artist, and/or from audience to audience? Does it depend on the type of art created? For example, does someone looking at a painting have a different obligation to the painter than someone listening to some music owes the composer and/or performer? What about a play, or some other public performance?

Related questions: What is art? Art: Create or consume? How important is the artist to art?

1 thought on “What Does An Audience Owe The Artist?”

  1. American capitalism is a cruel system to many who want to “make it” in artistic endeavors. The artist must come from money, or be someone who decides to sacrifice everything for their art, or, more commonly, are those who treat their creative endeavors as side projects (and likely not be able to devote enough time to perfecting their craft). The competition this invites, we tell ourselves, allows the best (often individuals) to gain an audience willing to pay what amounts to a livable income or, rarer still, fame and fortune.

    A friend/colleague of mine is a jazz pianist. He tells me venues pay next to nothing for those fortunate enough to get a gig. Tips are how he must hope to make the most money. Now, my friend is good at what he does (at least, to my untrained ear). He hopes he will make more from his gigs. Thankfully, he’s talented enough to practice law as a way to earn a “real” living.

    As I said, it’s a cruel system. Only some artists build a large enough audience and catch what an agent, producer, or publisher wants to represent passionately. A few more do good enough to play support (e.g., become part of a house band, serve as supportive actors, etc.). Fewer still keep protecting their craft but never achieve an audience or representation. And most, I assume, practice their art, choosing impoverishment or needing to work what they can find as a second job.

    I wish we had more public funding for the arts. I wish we had something akin to a universal basic income, allowing artists (heck, everyone) to spend more time being who they want to be. And, I wish the audience felt like they owed more than and in tips.

    So, what does the audience owe the artist? First, they must pay talent something closer to their worth (i.e., generous tips or purchasing something the artist made), demand more of venues, and advocate for more public funding for the arts.

    Why? Because I think the audience owes more, not just to an individual artist, but to a creative community that, I believe, allows art not just to be seen as an individual “making it” but the recognition that thriving artist communities make our society more culturally vibrant.

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