“Know your audience.”
People have advised me of this for years now in relation to the creative work that I do.
Why do people tell me to KNOW my audience? They know that if I don’t make something people find appealing the audience won’t buy it. Seems logical, right? So, logically, I should create in such a way, and use certain subject-matter that is already popular and proven to sell well. So, here’s the problem with that concept. You can’t throw logic at creativity and get the same results that authenticity and pure passion produces (try saying THAT five times fast!). Passionate work will draw an audience in and keep them coming back the same way a lone guitar player can quiet a busy sidewalk.
Artists are no stranger to the struggle between creating for joy and creating for the market. Yet I am one of those artists who has turned my chin up at this notion (granted, I am not financially well-off, but my work does support itself) and has practically ignored the wishes of my customers. There are times when I wonder if my disregard for the audience will alienate them. During my development of “Retail Sunshine” (now a project in stasis), I worried that my art customers would see how I illustrated general consumers and become offended, causing me to burn that bridge. I even braced myself for the inevitable hate-mail my work would inspire.
It never came.
The only answer I can conclude is intent. What was my intent in the struggle between the “Blue Shirts” and the “Blanks”? I would have to say: exposure through humor. I wanted to expose the actions of the consumer as it affected the men and women in the front lines of the sales world. I wasn’t particularly nice in my depiction of customers, to be sure! But there is something about humor that is the ever-saving grace for satirists and that is: if something is funny, it lowers our defenses.
In lowering the reader’s defenses, they are now more willing to open their minds to the punchline that follows. In this case, noticing the “Blank Shirt” in themselves in such a way that doesn’t single them out, but rather, showing the “Blank Shirt” in ALL of us as we collectively forget our brains while shopping. That exposure was a way for me to get my frustrations out on paper in a way that would give me an opportunity to laugh at my daily struggle…a way to regain the power that is taken away from you when dealing with the general public.
I was still AWARE of my audience, but I wasn’t creating the work FOR them. Being aware in this case means stepping back from the work and seeing it through the eyes of a new reader, but these were stories that I wanted to tell in a way that I thought best to tell them. Trust me, I was given tons of suggestions that were all rejected because this wasn’t “so-and-so’s” comic about retail, this was Phil Machi’s. I have no regrets other than the usual “I could have drawn this better”-isms that come with being a perfectionist.
I still have RESPECT for my audience. This means I wouldn’t put a series of meaningless scribbles and angry curse words in a jumbled illegible mess and expect people to pay money for it. I also am deeply appreciative towards anyone who is willing to say with their words or their pocketbooks that they wish to possess something I made. I respect them enough to make items of quality that I would be proud to have in my own collection.
Why am I writing about this now when for the last 7 months, I have been focusing my creative efforts on a book about talking dinosaurs? Well, you see, the age-old dilemma of “knowing my audience” hasn’t gone away. It is our nature as humans to try to understand and put definitions around the things we encounter. People see my current drawings and assume I am creating a children’s book. I am not. Perhaps it would be financially smarter if I was.
Now I will not go into what makes a “children’s book” in this blog entry (perhaps soon, I will), but I do want to say this: I KNOW who my audience is. It’s the same audience it has been since I was drawing cows and pigs in high school…ME. Does that sound selfish to you? Perhaps it is. Maybe it’s “wrong” that I am not making it my life’s mission to “touch the hearts and minds” of everyone who picks up my publications.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it when I hear that a book I wrote or a comic I drew meant something to someone. I’m going to write that again. Something that *I* created *meant something* to someone *else*. This truly is an amazing feeling as an artist and OF COURSE I want that result. But at the end of the day, there is something inherently wrong with focusing solely on this thinking.
I don’t go to bed at night next to all my readers (simmer down, ladies). The person I see every morning no matter what my situation in life is will always be me. That is the only guarantee in that arena. If I make it my mission to please everyone else with my creations, what happens then, when I don’t have that person around anymore? Who’s voice do I know best to represent?
My point is this: The entertainer and the audience DO have a relationship and I believe art is a gift, a joy, a service and so many other things, but at the end of the day, if you don’t create what you believe…if you don’t LOVE it…you will be exposed on that paper to your audience.
If that happens, no one will care about what you create, least of all, you.