The missing piece to connecting with your audience:
Here's what they don't teach you in art school
That feeling when you finally face the fears and butterflies, and release that creative project you’ve poured your life-force into for weeks-months-years…
You wait, with bated breath…
…and it barely registers on the world?
I work with a lot of committed, mid-career creatives who struggle to get their work seen.
They’re not “seeking attention” in some narcissistic way. They’re not egomaniacs.
They have SOMETHING TO SHARE.
They want their work to take its place in the larger cultural conversation in whatever corner of creative endeavor they’ve staked out.
We make art, and creative work of all kinds, in order to take something—an idea, an emotion, a story—from inside your own head and put it into somebody else’s head in as complete and intact a form as possible.
You’re trying to take this.
And put it in there.
It’s only when it’s seen, heard, read, or experienced, that your work completes the circuit and lights up the world.
“Hold up. I make my work to express myself. I don’t care what the audience thinks.”
Sounds cool. But is it really true?
When I hear artists and writers say stuff like this, I push back and ask: You really don’t want a single great review of your work? You don’t want anyone to care about it?
I’ve never yet met someone whose creative expression was so self-contained that they literally made their work only for themselves.
What they mean by “I don’t care” is that they don’t care what the average-Joe-on-the-street thinks. They don’t care what “society” thinks. And that’s healthy.
In all cases I can think of, the artist dreamed of having certain people, or a certain group of people, truly SEE the work and respond to it.
Maybe it was their family.
Maybe it was their school friends.
But most often, they dreamed of connecting with smart, perceptive, creative people who would be passionately engaged by the work, who would love to spend a solid hour talking about it, whose lives would be affected in large ways or small.
Artists want their work to make an impact.
In concrete terms, your “work” could look like anything from painting, to writing, to cartooning, to music making, event planning, designing, DJing…really any physical creation or set of ideas you generate that’s unique to you that you put out into the world.
That is art.
And art is communication. Art needs other people.
But the truth is, most creatives, in their natural state, are pretty terrible at telling anyone why they should care about the work.
I mean, my fairy-writing friend is no newbie. She’s an accomplished writer and artist with published books under her belt.
The fact that she’s not great at communicating the wonders to be found in her work is not her fault, though.
Or yours, either, if I’m hitting a little close to home.
This is the result of how we teach people to create their best work—by digging deep inside ourselves to come up with wonderful, original work.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
The problem is, that’s where the process typically ends.
Virtually all the training and practice of making creative work focuses on the first half of the core mission of communication: getting those ideas out of your head and into some form.
But that’s missing half the picture.
As a creative, it’s your job to build the whole, complete connection, to build a bridge for the audience they can use to easily cross over and understand the value of your work…to THEM.
This kind of clarity and audience-focused language doesn’t come easy to creatives.
Sharing your creative work is a different job from making your creative work
It requires engaging with an entirely different perspective.
To be specific:
It requires seeing your work through the eyes of your intended audience.
This is scary for a lot of creatives. It can feel like you risk compromising your vision.
“The role of the artist is to create something, not to tell people how they should be impacted or changed by it!”
100% agree! Creating, and sharing what you create, are two separate processes.
YES they have a relationship. But you absolutely should not to sit in your studio pondering how people will receive your work…as you’re making your work.
If for no other reason than it’s likely to either enrage you or freeze you solid with fear.
No. Creating comes first.
But then communicating joins the dance.
This is not a matter of taking the stupid advice of your Uncle Jim who thinks you’d make more money if you’d do logos instead of making abstract earthworks sculpture.
Nor is this a question of “telling” anyone anything about what they “should” get out of the work.
But if your vision includes changing minds and hearts, inspiring, or making people think?
Then your vision is secure, and the process of learning to connect to your audience will make your work stronger.
Because your mission, like that of most creatives, is, at its root, about communication—of YOUR unique, original point of view through your specific touch with your medium.
Imagine that fantastic day when some super-smart, interesting person tracks you down at a party, thanks you for what you’ve made, and tells you what it’s meant to them…and you feel in your gut that they GET IT.
To arrive at that moment?
It requires that you think through how you can make sure that amazing person at the party—when she first encounters it—would have any idea that she really should take a closer look at your work.
When Trish Trash finally came out in the USA, years after the whole book trailer debacle, it STILL wasn’t a big hit, but it did get solid notices in venues that drive sales. However, the only review I remember was from NPR.org, titled, “In ‘Trish Trash,’ Roller Derby — And Anti-Capitalist Parable — On Mars”
Cue golden rays of light breaking through the clouds, striking my face as I turn to the sun.
I FEEL SEEN.
What’s the missing piece in connecting your work to its intended audience?
You have to be able to tell the world what your work is, and why it’s awesome **without cringing and making excuses. Without confusing and feeling compelled to over-explain.
You have to present your work in a way that people can actually hear.
(Pay attention to this: it’s where most creatives fail)
Obviously, that’s not the only thing you need to do to find success in your creative career!
If you have fabulous, inspiring messaging about your creative work…and you never share it with anyone?
You still won’t grow an audience.
But that comes later.
You can’t build connections and community around your work, and you won’t have people falling in love with what you do, unless you can do this one thing first:
You have to be able to convincingly, empathetically share what the audience will get out of the experience of your work.
That’s why it’s important that my friend hasn’t been able to tell me what will be special and interesting and compelling about her fairy book—to me.
That is literally job one.
“Whoah! Are we talking “customer is always right”/test screening/dumbing down bullshit approach to crowdsourcing creative work here? If that’s where this is going, I’m O.U.T.”
If your hackles went up when I talked about paying attention to what the audience gets from your work, don’t worry, you’re in the right place.
In fact, pandering to a general audience is the OPPOSITE of what works to build a loyal, highly engaged audience. (More on this in point 2, following.)
When artists sand off all their rough edges, when they pander and lower their standards to reach the lowest common denominator, they become interchangeable.
No one gets passionate about interchangeable, commodity-smooth art. No one tells their friends about it. No one is moved to their core.
People who make work that’s intended to get people thinking, feeling, engaging? If it’s specific and particular, even a bit oddball, that’s a huge advantage. But it does mean they have a little work to do to help the right people see what’s amazing beyond the surface.
Pinpointing what will light up the audience about your work without undermining your own creative integrity requires a three-part process that is rooted in what matters most to you.
Next, I’ll lay out exactly what that looks like—and don’t worry, it relies on exactly what you’re already great at: going inside to find the truth.
Click continue to find out how to do Job One…without dumbing down your work
- The primary mission of creative work is to communicate, and typically we’re not taught to close that loop by paying attention to the audience’s perspective (in fact, we’re often taught NOT to!)
- Sharing creative work requires a different perspective from creating it, and that’s challenging to many creatives.
- The missing link for most creatives trying to build an audience is clear, compelling messaging that helps the audience understand what they’ll get from the experience of your work. (Without pandering!)