Thursday, August 3, 2017

Art and Marketing - Know and Respect Your Audience!

We all want to be "free" when creating art, but we also want our work to be loved by a large audience. So should artists think about their audience's needs and wishes when creating their work?

If you want to be understood you have to speak the language of your audience.

I'm a writer and a hobby artist. I'm also an internet marketing manager. And as such I know that if you dream of building a large audience (which every artist does, let's be honest here) you have to start with your "product". If there generally aren't many people interested in the kind of work you do you have no right to complain about how little people care about your art. A "product" that is meant to be successful is always created with the "customer" in mind.

This, however, is the exact opposite of what people often consider "true art". Artists are expected to express themselves, completely ignoring what the audience wants. In fact, the audience is often considered uneducated and having a bad taste anyway. It's a very popular trope that an artist is doomed to be not understood by society.

The Mistake of Looking Down Upon My Readers

For years this has been my attitude as well. I made lots of experiments and many readers experienced difficulties reading my stories. I've learned a lot from those experiments, so I don't regret them. But I also made the mistake of thinking poorly of the readers struggling with my anachronistic story structures or not understanding my metaphors and psychological hints.

Sure there are readers who actually are unable to understand anything more complicated. In another blog post I already wrote about the importance of questioning the feedback you receive. Some readers are just incompetent of reading between the lines and understanding things on a more abstract level. I still believe that. But if the majority of your audience struggles to understand you, you're doing something wrong.

You Market Your Work to the Wrong Audience

The first thing you may be doing wrong is marketing your artwork to the wrong audience. It means you publish your artwork in the wrong place or your advertizing, blurb, trailer and so on is/are misleading. Either way you catch or try to catch the attention of an audience who isn't interested in reading between the lines, understanding your metaphors, your structure and so on.

One example is the movie Sucker Punch by Zack Snyder. It was one of the worst-reviewed movies of 2011, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I love it. I love experimental stuff, and I did see a deep meaning in it. I don't agree with most criticisms, but it would be too much for this blog post to explain why I don't perceive this movie as misogynistic. What is more important here is what the movie actually did fail at: telling the audience what it is about and who it was made for.

In an article on Josh Tyler hits the nail on the head:
"It's not a superhero movie, exactly, and it's not really science fiction or a fantasy film. It's kind of steam punk, but not really. It's set in a dream world, sort of. It seems to want to be an action movie, but there's all this stuff about girls an insane asylum which feels like it's halfway to being Girl, Interrupted. I said in my review of the film that it seemed like it was three completely different movies, crammed together. [...] Alone any one of those movies might find an audience yet stick them together and show them to most crowds, while they might like one of them, odds are they won't be interested in the other two."

Your Artwork Is the Problem

Sure your audience may be wrong or just too incompetent to understand you, but if nobody understands you, then it may be because you speak a language only you can understand. It's great when artists create new symbols and metaphors, but if you don't give hints at what they mean, if you don't give your audience the tools to decipher your artwork, then you shouldn't be surprised everyone in your audience fails. It's like talking gibberish and then complaining that no one understands you.

If you want to be understood you have to speak the language of your audience. Sure you can be creative with it, but if you're too creative, then at least provide your audience with some sort of manual, a hint here and there, an elegantly placed explanation ... Give your audience at least something they can handle. They can't read your mind, you know.

Staying in Reality

It's understandable artists love to create their own worlds. This is very much what art is about. However, it's crucial not to lose sight of reality. Because this is where your audience comes from. If you don't open up to reality, you'll stay in your own little world alone forever.


  1. This is a great post and entirely relevant to several discussions I've been having lately with other writers. Art for art's sake is fine, but if you want to sell it to someone you have to consider what they want. Sharing this.


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