Most artists will agree that the creation of art is deeply personal. It is an outward expression of inward emotion. But, since art is rarely created and then destroyed or hidden away, I believe every artist should consider their audience. After all, audiences are going to be engaging with the art long after the artist is gone.
In my experience, I’ve come to see that there are only three types of audiences that we create art for, and each have their own unique value to the artist.
1: Outward Art
One reason we create is for others. This type of art serves as a blessing to a group of people or to the world as a whole. This is a gift. Thus, it should not be created from selfish ambition. The artist creating for others is not doing so for their own betterment, but for the betterment of others.
The artist creating for others should understand that, just like when we give a gift to a friend, we give up ownership of that object. When we create art for others, we should let it go afterward. It is no longer our possession, but rather something that now exists for others in the world.
Seeing this type of art as a gift helps the artist release all personal sensitivity to criticism. It no longer matters to the artist whether others like the art or not, because the artist has given it away freely. Like it or hate it, this art is a gift, and it’s been given without expectation.
2: Inward Art
As stated before, art is a deeply personal thing. It’s one of the most significant ways we humans have to process emotions and thoughts.
But sometimes, the artist chooses not to create for others, but rather for themselves. This kind of art is created for the betterment of the artist’s individual soul. That’s not to say others can’t enjoy it or benefit from it. It’s great if others find something of value in this type of art! But the original purpose behind the creation was not to be a gift for others, but rather to be a gift for the individual artist.
This may sound selfish, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a good meal as a way to take care of your health. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with creating good art as a way to help yourself process deep and complicated thoughts.
3: Upward Art
This type of art is done not for others or for the self, but for God. This could be seen as a way to communicate with the One far above us, or as a form of worship. This is often deeply soulful art, expressed out of a great love of the holy Creator of us all.
One way to look at this type of art is to consider how things worked in ancient China. It wasn’t uncommon for the Emperor to find an artist he liked and then commission a piece of art. Once the artist delivered the art, it was up to the Emperor whether or not he wanted to share it with the rest of China, or keep it for himself.
In the same way, this type of art is created for God, and for God alone. He is the one who put the song in the musician’s mouth. He is the one who inspired the art. And therefore, He is the one responsible for what happens to it after it’s been given to Him.
Understanding these three types of audiences has greatly helped me identify why I’m writing, who I’m writing for, and what level of ownership I should expect to have.
For example, when I wrote Skyblind, I wrote it for myself. This was a project where I was wrestling with things in my heart—things like idolatry, legalism, and pride. It became my personal prayer as I processed the way the church worked and what my role was in the world.
As I wrote Skyblind, I learned more about myself than I ever imagined possible and grew deeper as a person through the process.
Because of this powerful personal experience, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not anyone likes or reads it. Sure, I want Skyblind to do well and for people to like it. But ultimately, it already accomplished its goal by helping me work through and process things. I didn’t publish it with the expectation that it would be of value to anyone.
The Magician’s Workshop is different. When Chris Hansen and I decided to co-write this series, we did so believing that it was something God had commissioned us to do so. We wrote the first two volumes for Him. Whether He chooses to share it with the world, or keep it for Himself, is now up to Him. This relieves me of the pressure of needing it to do well, or becoming upset if it doesn’t. We obeyed what we felt was the Lord’s calling, and we have no regrets.
I’m currently in the middle of a new project, which I’m writing for others. Specifically, I’m writing it for children. I recognized a need for quality children’s literature, and decided that I wanted to try writing a story as a way to encourage innocence, joy, and playful imagination.
Know Your Audience
I encourage all of you to really be thoughtful when creating art. Consider which of the three audiences you are writing for, and go ahead and enjoy the process. Art is nuanced, and sometimes your audience is a combination of all three. But there’s almost always a dominant audience you’re creating for. Be honest with your intentions and go out and create. There is beauty in all forms of creation. There is value in the process. I truly believe one of the key things that makes us unique from all other life in the universe is our ability to create art.