Connecting with the Audience and Meeting Deadlines
The final chapter in the section on relationships deals with the artist’s relationship with the audience. Dr. Paris starts this chapter with the following sentence:
The difference between artistic self-expression and creating a work of art is engagement with the audience. In creating a work of art, the artist is reaching out for the audience, attempting to convey or communicate feeling, experience, or idea. The artist is hoping to touch the audience in some way, to elicit a certain kind of response from them.
And the nature of our engagement with the audience throughout the creative process is largely determine by what perceptions we have about the audience. Such perceptions can include what they need and want and their expectations. Are they appreciative, approving, admiring? Or are they critical, hostile, withholding?
Where do these assumptions come from? From our previous experience and encounters with audiences. Positive experiences cause us to anticipate future positive responses; likewise a poor experience will cause us to anticipate that the next audience will also be critical. And when the experience was negative, we may stop our creative process or deny that the audience’s response matters at all.
This reminds me of the belief that if you’re rejected, the problem isn’t you; the problem is with the audience, the jury, the gallery owner. While this may be true in many cases (e.g. your contemporary art isn’t a good fit with a country theme show), we still take this rejection personally on some level.
In addition to our previous experiences with audiences, our assumptions about what to expect with and from others can be traced back to childhood. According to Dr. Paris, new research on parent-infant interaction suggests that the way parents relate with their child forms the child’s prototype of relationships throughout life. That is, early interactions with parents organizes the child’s assumptions about what to expect from others. So a child who has regular and frequent moments of shared enthusiasm with his/her parents comes to expect this response and feels safe enough to allow immersion with others.
If our original interactions with others involved feelings of rejection or dismissal, we have the potential to develop more positive interactions but only if we understand how our reflexive positions help to re-create and maintain old patterns.
Dr. Paris also briefly discusses “parallel identities” where a child/adult is secure in his/her artistic relationships but insecure in his/her personal relationships. This often occurs when a child begins artistic expression and performance at a young age, develops confidence while performing, but cannot transfer those same feelings to personal relationships.
“The ultimate challenge in engaging with an other…is retaining our own sense of self while still responding to the needs of the other.”
Here Dr. Paris refers to our ability to maintain a balance with our audience. Do we concern ourselves with self-preservation, that is “I do what I do and the audience can like it or lump it.” Or do we only meet audience demand, that is “What I do is only as valuable as the audience’s response to it. I must give them what they want.”
While we may bounce from one extreme to the other, as creative types we cease to be truly creative if we merely fulfill a formula for audience approval. This belief can be applied to more than just a creative, immersive experience. Consider how you feel if you do anything in life just for someone’s approval.
How we deal with deadlines depends on several factors, including how we experience boundaries, especially those imposed by others and how a deadline is presented. Imposed deadlines can feel inhibiting; they become something to resist and rebel against. If the “deadline-imposer” is perceived as insensitive or unreasonable, we may feel paralyzed by the deadline. If the “deadline-imposer” offers support, we feel strengthened and supported.
Creating our own deadlines can be a way to reduce resistance. We do not feel at risk of being controlled by an outside force and we may view the deadlines as “helpful containers for our creative process.” Personally, I know I work better with deadlines, whether set by my self or set externally by an other. However, it is often easier to fudge a self-imposed deadline because an external force is not controlling the deadline.
Finally, Dr. Paris states that deadlines can be experienced as incentives; small, bite-sized, manageable chunks that help us remain engaged in the creative process and to fend off overwhelm. A reward along the way (chocolate chip cookies or taking a half-day hike?) or a celebration of your achievement at the end (hot fudge lava cake or a massage?) can’t hurt either.
Dr. Paris offers three guides at the end of Chapter 7 to help us understand our relationship with audiences.
1. To explore our assumptions about our audience. Make a reality check about your assumptions. Are these assumptions based on past experiences with audiences or based in previous experiences in personal relationships?
2. Set your own deadlines. With externally imposed deadlines, create your own smaller deadlines within the allotted time frame.
3. Break projects down into small chunks. If breaking a project down into manageable chunks isn’t your thing, break the project down into time frames. Setting time limits is another way to contain anxiety. Spend 30 minutes on a task and if you can’t immerse after 30 minutes, call it a day.
I invite you to join me as I read Standing at Water’s Edge. You can purchase the book through Amazon, Dr. Paris’s web site, or perhaps find it at your local library or bookstore. My goal is to post every 7-10 days a summary of the chapter and share any a-ha moments that occurred. I welcome your comments on this and successive posts. Share your a-ha moments and experiences while reading the book. You can join in at any time. If you have a blog and are also writing about your experiences with this book, please include a link to your blog in your comment. I’ll include your blogs at the end of my posts.
Standing at Water’s Edge is divided into three parts with 10 chapters as follows:
Part 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 1: The Secret World of Creativity
Chapter 2: The Light and Dark of Immersion
Part II: Relationships
Chapter 3: The Need for Others
Chapter 4: Finding Strength in Mirrors
Chapter 5: Finding Inspiration in Heroes
Chapter 6: Finding Comfort in Twins
Chapter 7: Connecting with the Audience and Meeting Deadlines
Part III: Stages of the Creative Process
Chapter 8: Approaching Immersion
Chapter 9: Diving In
Chapter 10: Coping with Disengagement and Reentry