One day while devouring a soggy burger, greasy fries, and diluted soda, I got into a debate with a friend of a friend about artistic motivation. He argued that true artists never try to impress anyone. True artists couldn't care less if anyone liked the rawness of their poetry, the rhythm of their jams, the dance of paint upon their canvases. They only created art for art's sake, and doing otherwise would make them sellouts.
Of course artists care about what others think. The concept of novelists writing novels only for themselves is nothing short of sad. "That was a great one, Nate!" I'd say to myself whilst snuggled in bed with my laptop on a winter's morning. "Write me another one!"
Well okay, maybe I have done that. But beyond the flow of the moment, I'm ultimately out to entertain others. Stories, after all, are meant to be read, just like songs are meant to be heard and paintings are meant to be viewed. Art inherently seeks an audience. And trust me, artists are hoping that someone in the audience appreciates it, whether they admit it or not.
Perhaps the most obvious artform begging for appreciation is that of the stand-up comedy routine. Imagine comedians telling jokes simply for their own sake, without laughter on the other side. "So this duck walks into a bar..." There's no point to it. Sure, the comedians may practice in front of mirrors, rehearse routines during daily commutes, spend alone time rewording zingers... But all of that, no matter how intrinsically rewarding it may be, is only given purpose by the forthcoming performance. The one in front of an audience. The one trying to get the laughs.
In fact, the best definition of art—ANY art—I've ever heard came from a little-known comedian by the name of Jerry Seinfeld. He claimed that a good stand-up routine isn't a monologue. It's a dialogue.
How true! This nugget spans the mediums. The poem, song, dance, movie, painting, drawing, sculpture, novel—hell, even the fucking knock-knock joke—is not meant to rest in isolation. It is meant to connect.
To be fair to the friend of a friend who plucked a half-dozen greasy fries from my plate, I'd say his argument becomes astoundingly valid when changing the term "anyone" to "everyone." Because yes, it's true that artists shouldn't try to impress everyone. Doing so would indeed make them sellouts. Not to mention, it's impossible.
No single artist's efforts will ever be appreciated by everyone. For every four-star novel Stephen King has written, there will be hundreds of readers scoring it the dreaded zero. For every Oscar Meryl Streep has won, there will be thousands of movie-goers telling you she sucks. For every platinum album Eminem has landed, there will be legions of critics claiming his music is atrocious. For the sake of sanity and perseverance, artists need to acknowledge that their style, their point of view, simply isn't for everyone. Hoping otherwise would make them miserable. (Again, trust me, I know.)
But hoping to find their audience? Hoping to connect? There's nothing wrong with that. It's the very drive of human nature. It's what motivates us to action. It's what gives our lives purpose.
Reach for your audience. Connect with them.
Make them laugh.