Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Entertainers vs. Artists

by Deren Hansen

Writing in the November 2010 issue of Electronic Musician, Steven Wilson said, "This, for me, is the distinction between an entertainer (cater to an audience) and an artist (create your own audience)." [Emphasis mine.]

I found Steven's distinction enlightening, not because the artist is more noble than the entertainer but because of the way in which it clarifies the nature of the audiences.

This is not about selling out or maintaining artistic integrity. I've already discussed the notion of meeting the market half-way. That's something you must do whether you're catering to an audience or creating one. In the catering case, you've got to bring something new to the existing audience: without some variations on the theme, they'll get bored and go elsewhere. In the creating case, you've got to frame your novelties in familiar terms so that the audience you attract can get their bearings.

The distinction between catering to an audience and creating an audience is like the distinction between promotions that are compelling or enticing. When you're catering to an audience, you need something that will compel them to pay attention to your project. When you're creating an audience, you need to entice them to explore something new.

How do you know what kind of audience you should address?

If you're writing something that fits comfortably in one genre, like epic fantasy, where readers expectations are fairly clear, the audience expects you to cater to them. If you're writing something that mixes genres, you'll likely have to create an audience.

Think about what you're trying to do. Now think about how your audience will find you. I suspect the distinction between the entertainer and the artist will help clarify the issues.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.


Julie Daines said...

Hmmmmm... I'm just hoping to write for ANY audience!

Scott said...

I'm with Julie.

I think to break in, you probably have to lean more toward catering to the audience. The people you market to are looking for stuff that will sell big, which means it caters to the audience. You can't create an audience until you find one. It doesn't mean you have to compromise your artistic ambitions. It just means you probably have to aim at an existing audience until you've found your own.