As a dancer, I’ve performed in front of many audiences. My former dance professors, an older couple who have danced and taught together for decades, tell me that there is an energy the audience gives off. Each audience gives off a different energy, they say, and the feeling that energy gives you when you perform is surprising and magical every time. Personally, I have trouble even remembering whether or not the audience applauded at the end of my performance. I become so absorbed in the movement, in the story of my dance.
There are practical guidelines in art that help artists to remember their audience and take them into account. For example, in dance we say “the ending is forty percent of the dance” a rule offered up by Doris Humphrey in her book on choreography entitled Making Dances. Rules like Humphrey’s ask you to prioritize certain pieces of your art because of the way the audience will view it as a result.
I’m currently reading a book by the Dalai Llama entitled Ethics for the New Millenium in which the Dalai Llama is trying to use very practical utilitarian arguments to convince his audience (the people of the west) that they should be charitable and seek to live more ethical lives, considering deeply the impact their actions might have on others.
In thinking about the role that an artists’ perception of their audience plays in the art that is created, I can’t help but wonder if there is an element to this dynamic that makes the resulting art less genuine. As an artist It is of course always valuable to consider other points of view, but at the end of the day, who and what is your art really for?
I believe that most artists whether they be writers, musicians, painters, dancers, etc. are often trying to express something very particular to their unique world view; something that is, not always, but often best expressed through that artists’ own idea of how a story should be told, the order of importance in which a dance should be viewed, and the values that should be given weight. Is it not, after all, one of the primary purposes of art to give it’s viewers an opportunity to step out of themselves?
A piece of advice I give to those who will take the role of audience at some point (All of us), is to suspend disbelief. This is another piece of advice coming from the lips of my former dance mentors, and I have tried my best to heed it. When I do, I enjoy the experience of being an audience member much more than I do when I am being critical of a work of art as I am experiencing it. Allow yourself to be transported into another perspective rather than needing the artist to cater to their pre – conceived notions of the perspective you already have. Slip into the world the artist puts in front of you and live in it for a while, on their terms. There will be time for critical review once the curtains (book covers, museum doors) close.