A good friend of mine is also a performance artist making work in New York City. She currently has a show up and running, and we recently had a conversation about why we feel the need to make and show work in this city, the most difficult place do so. The conversation kept returning to one thing – who do we make work for, and do they actually come to see the work? NYC artists all know that building your own audience in a town full of competition is a difficult thing to do. Audiences are fickle, sometimes driven by content, sometimes by discounts. The truth is, no one really knows why people decide to see the work that they see. The only reliable audience is your friends and family. Artists spend hours, thousands of dollars, gallons of sweat and tears to make a piece of performance art that has a life span shorter than a butterfly and is shared with an unknown number of people most of whom would love and respect you whether or not you were an artist. So the question is do we make art for the people who see it, or do we make art to satisfy a deeper personal need?
It is possible that we make art for different reasons at different times. During the creation process, and I speak for myself now, I am not creating the piece for those that see it, I am building the best the work that I can because I can’t imagine doing anything else. Because the creation process is so satisfying, because watching a piece take on a life of its own, watching it become something larger than any one person involved is spectacular. However, once the work of building the piece is over and it is time to open the theater doors something shifts. You expect people from all over to want to see your hard work, to experience the results. You want to share your art with as many people as possible, because you’re proud, because you want recognition, because talking about the piece with someone you’ve never met before is more magnificent than I can describe.
With that said, are both true? We make art both for ourselves and for those who see it. I guess that seems obvious. But somehow when one part of the process doesn’t satisfy, like if your audience attendance is low, the whole thing can seem pointless. I suppose that in those moments, when we are wondering why we do what we do we just have to remember that making the work is just as important, if not more important, than showing it.