Why Great Artists Only Create for an Audience of One

Who do you create for?

I think the vast majority of us – whether we are musicians, entrepreneurs, or anything in between – work with the intent of creating something special for an audience of millions. We want to be like those who came before us. The people whose great work came to define the world as it is today. The people we call The 8 Percent.

That’s great, and it’s certainly possible, but allow me to let you in on a little secret: the most successful creators might be reaching an audience of millions, but they’re not creating for those millions. Not really. Instead, they are creating for a single person. An individual who they know will connect with their work, revere its authenticity, and be its greatest ambassador.

They are creating for themselves.

Initially, that can be hard to grasp, and even harder to accept. We get so focused on niche, on viability, on commercial return, that doing, what we want how we want every time sounds amateurish and illogical. And while it does open us up to a greater chance of failure, creating for an audience of one is the most direct way to find our Great Work.

George Carlin took a more traditional route to comedy until he decided to share his unfiltered thoughts on society in his set following the arrest of Lenny Bruce.

Steve Jobs’ entire career was founded on staying true to what he wanted to create. His passion got him fired from Apple…then later turned it into one of the most prominent companies in the world.

Few better represent the importance of creating for yourself than David Bowie, whose 36 albums over 50 years, celebrated film roles, and stunning paintings make up a body of art as diverse and personal as any one artist has ever crafted.

In a 1997 interview, he gave this advice to creators:

Never play to the gallery. Never work for other people in what you do. Always remember that the reason you initially started working was there was something inside yourself that, if you could manifest it, you felt you would understand more about yourself. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations.”

 

What Bowie spoke to is the heart of the issue: endeavour vs expectation.

Creative endeavour is an intrinsic process. That which drives us to create, regardless of where the inspiration comes from, can come only from within. But the sense of success that makes us feel validated in our work – and, too often, is what gets people creating in the first place – is something we expect to derive from outside ourselves.

The more we work, and are recognised for our work, the more expectation we find placed upon ourselves to meet the wants of our audience. The more expectation, the more pressure we feel to pander. And that never works out for the better of the creator.

If you’re serious about what you want to create, then you can’t rely on external evaluation to determine the value of your work. As Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.

You want to be follow in the footsteps of your heroes? You want to be one of The 8 Percent? Then create your Great Work to your specifications. Nobody else’s. Doing so takes courage. but if you don’t believe in the work enough to attract an audience of one, how can you ever hope to attract an audience of millions?

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