There are two ways to think about your audience.
One is to hold them in contempt. To see them as a necessary evil in the creative process, as an obstacle to be overcome. What this approach really betrays is your fear of the audience.
Some hide this fear behind the guise of “giving the people what they want.” But you don’t know – or particularly care – what they want, only what you want. And so you don’t ever bother to find out. You see them as faceless mob instead, and cynically second-guess what they want. And then you wonder why your creations miss the mark you aimed for time and time again.
Really, you are not in this game for the creation of something great. You are after ego-gratification, and personal glory, and you believe that if you can just deceive a large enough group of people for a long enough amount of time, you’ll get your reward.
You audience is a means to an end. And nothing you create will last.
The other approach is to see your audience as a kind of willing co-creator. To see them not only as necessary, but as an incredibly useful tool when it comes to shaping your work.
Instead of giving people what you think they want, you put everything you have into figuring out what they need. Of course, you don’t answer this question on Day 1 and then start creating… it is an attitude that you carry with you at every stage of the creative process.
You do all you can to get outside of yourself and into the minds of the people that are going to experience your work. How will they see this? What will this make them expect? Will I do what they expect, or will I surprise them? You try to see your work from as many different angles as possible.
You never worry that this process will make your work somehow less “yours”. You are still the one doing all the work. You are the artist. There has been no compromise whatsoever. It’s just that instead of working solely from your ego – which is what happens when you try to second-guess them – you have invited the audience to be a part of your creation. Without them even knowing.
But they’ll know it then they experience your work. Because it smacks of something real. Your audience will sense something in it that they are famished for in this crass, commercial age.
People know when they are being talked down to, and when instead they are being taken on a journey. It’s up to you to decide which of the two paths you’re going to take.