Audiences

I have been writing some pieces on the relationship between creativity and audience on a mail list.

I’ve had one response there; the irony of talking about audiences without having much of one is an irony I live with.

I don’t think most of the audience understands what I am saying, but having passed the time where I have to practice defending everything, unless I am helping someone else, I don’t tend to write unless I have something to say, something I need to understand more deeply.  I write for an audience of one, helping develop my own sensibilities & senstivities.

But it’s interesting to me, and might be interesting to one or two of you, so I’ll share it here, after the jump. . .

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We definately have to make our own art, no doubt, because the best any of us can do is turn our flesh and blood into art, some kind of creation that can move others.

The challenge, though, is making our own audience.  There’s a reason that normies like queers interpreted though the eyes of normies, because they understand the desires & context of normies, but since they are not in touch with their own queerness, they still see queers as the other.

Some have said that it’s the critic’s job to inform the audience how to understand & appreciate art; maybe we need better critics.

Creating art is vital, and that we need to do.

It just seems even more vital to create an audience to support that art, which, I am sad to say, is a task that baffles me.

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Wouldn’t it be lovely if we started this by learning how to be a good audience for each other, rather than often feeling our buttons pushed by the art of other trannys and then trying to silence them?

But we have learned to deny so much of ourselves to fit in that anyone who exposes too much often squicks us, offering a reflection of us we would rather be erased than have to engage.

Just heard Alan Alda’s book. “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Other Things I Have Learned.”  He makes a distinction between acting like you are listening and really listening, where he notes that real listening requires the willingness to be changed by what you hear. 

I suspect that is one of the hallmarks of a good audience, not just the desire to be entertained, but the willingness to be changed by what we experience.  

I don’t think we can be a good artist until we become a good audience, engaging others with a willingness to be changed.  And as long as we are desparately trying to hang onto our status quo, well that means we have to reject art, not engage it.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we started this by learning how to be a good audience for each other, rather than often feeling our buttons pushed by the art of other trannys and then trying to silence them?

But while we are still trying to hang onto the shards of our constructed standing, well, it’s hard to be a good audience, and hard then to make great art, at least in my experience.

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It seems to me that the nature of audiences is that they are built by borrowing someone else’s audience and making a few of them yours.

For example, a singer who opens for another act at a club has exposure to the bigger act’s audience, and the opportunity to get noticed & known, so that if the singer has their own show, a few of those people may come.  An artist may appear in a joint show, and though that exposure get enough credibility to show somewhere else.

It’s clear that the more exposure any audience member has to similar or related words, the more they will have context to understand new works.  This is the challenge, building context.  I had a friend tell me once that she understood why no one desired me, because if they never met anyone like me, how could they know they wanted to be with someone like me?

What this means, though, is that we have to work together to build a context that creates related works, much like the Harlem Renaisance created a new context to see African-Americans that allowed writers, dancers, painters, sculpters and more to work under those views, and for their work to support each other.

Unfortunately, in the trans world, few seem to desire to come to a shared context, but rather to aggrandize the context that they feel has been most useful in defending their own actions in the world.

This lack of shared context means that the arbiters of the art world, and there have to be arbiters — producers, curators, editors, teachers, critics, and so on — the ones who control the means of production don’t feel the mass, and so tend to view trans art as outsider, abject, and a curiosity that can only be viewed as supporting normie art.  We become objects, not humans, because we don’t really exist in any mainstream context, even gay & lesbian world.

To me, the challenge is to face the broader audience in trying to speak authentically, engaging what makes people feel uncomfortable about trans.  This means moving past rationalizations that support the status quo, and finding space to rehearse being honest rather than just finding modes that justify ourselves.

That’s very difficult with a group that feels threatened and feels the need to defend their own nature against the coercive forces that want to pound down the nail that sticks up, want to silence the voices that question what gives comfort.

How do we give the arbiters something that they can see will touch the mainstream? 

My sister wanted me to see her acupuncturist, and gave him some of my writing.  He expected to read it as a curiosity, but told her “I didn’t expect it to be so compelling.”  Compelling, maybe, but when I went to see him he felt the need to challenge every idea I expressed, and after 90 minutes told me he made the fewest notes of any intake interview ever. 

“Great!” he said.  “We are starting with a clean slate!”

I smirked.  We were starting with him feeling threatened and defensive, I thought. 

I didn’t fit into any context he had, and that meant I needed to be dismissed.

How is trans not some sickness nor some rejection, but rather the claiming of indvidual choice to express what we know rather than what is expected of us?  How does that call to power beyond social expectations become less than threatening to those invested in the status quo?  How do we offer new possibilities of empowerment rather than just rejecting the current levels?

The interaction between artist and audience is vital.  Together they create and shape works, work and feedback looping together.

But when we have problems finding an audience, finding a seed to grow from, finding arbiters that encourage and empower, finding communities that are willing to leap, well, we have problems making better, clearer and mor potent art.

Or at least that’s my experience.

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In order to function, I need a public. 
We all need it.
And there is none of us who is free of that anxiety.
    Eugene Istomin, Pianist

If you really do want to be an actor
who can satisfy himself and his audience,
you need to be vulnerable. 
[You must] reach the emotional and intellectual level of ability
where you can go out stark naked, emotionally, in front of an audience . . .
    Jack Lemmon

The critic has to educate the audience. 
The artist has to educate the critic.
    Oscar Wilde

If you really want to help the American theater,
don’t be an actress, dahling.
Be an audience.
    Tallulah Bankhead

The artist tells his audience,
at the risk of their displeasure,
the secrets of their own hearts.
    Charles Collingwood

= = = = = = = = = = =

We are social animals, we humans. 

We can’t really be happy being lonely, even if that seems like the only choice sometimes.

I am very aware of how much I need an audience, and how that leads me to deeply mining every response to see my reflection, to understand what is from them and to glimpse what is me.

This is my strength and my weakness, because I learn more but I also act less, caring about getting better though study rather than getting stronger though practice.  They are both good, but when the balance is off, something is missing.

I hear Kiki scream, though the magical body of Justin Bond, and I hear the cry of the artist who knows, even at the cost to themselves.

We can’t live in a vaccum, that’s true, but is gasping for bits of breath any better?

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I’ve been thinking a bit about how our audiences shape our art and how we react to that.

First, we may reject the obvious ways audiences can shape our art, trying to avoid seeking affirmation or revenue from our art, though certainly seeking to entertain and please others isn’t a bad thing. We need what others can give us, and that means satisfying them.

At some point, you just got to give them what they want, while maybe sneaking in a bit of what you know they need.

Second, rejecting the ways convention can shape our art is even more difficult.  If we want to communicate something we have to use metaphors, symbols, images, styles, forms and ideas that have some basis in convention.  Without convention, we have no shared ground.

The old line is that you have to know the rules before you can break them effectively, and that means immersion in convention is often the starting point for moving beyond.  Without a basis in the craft of communication, it becomes hard to make art of communication, whatever medium you use.  Someone once said that you can’t write well until you can type as fast as you think, and while that isn’t true for all, the simple craft of typing allows me to write, and writing often is what helps me understand the tools I can use to craft my message.

Third, beyond trying to please the audience, or using conventions that underlie communication, though, we are affected in a deeper way.  It’s impossible for us to think about things we don’t have symbols and metaphors for, and so those structures we inherit affect the way we understand ourselves, our starting point for any creation we can make.

All art is collage, taking pieces or structures and reshaping them, rearranging them to make our own personal message.  I suspect that’s why trannys search so hard for the words of others at the start, to find some bits with which to cobble together our own message, our own understanding of self.  Listening to Virginia Prince talking though a dark night, coming out of my radio speaker was revelation to me; I knew I was not alone.  But I had to come a long way from there, listening to many, speaking in many tongues, and hearing many reflections to find my own voice.

This is the audience that lives inside of us, the one we use to model and shape our own expression.  It’s an odd mix of basic training, desire, construction and rejection,

The three steps are always construction, deconstruction and reconstruction.  Like any remodeling job, we can’t tear the whole thing down and start over; we can’t afford it and it would be a waste.  It’s what and how we choose to focus on, looking for rot and problems, and then the way we have to brace up that demolition, first with temporary braces and then with concious rebuilding of new and better.

Changing the audience in our head and heart, moving from canned reaction to considered response, seems a vital part of the process.  But doing that means widening our view, coming with both deep compassion and the willingness to learn, to rethink our expectations and create them anew.

Isn’t it changing the audience inside of us that changes our performance, which changes our lives and then changes our world? 

And can you think of any other way to do that than to be an audience to others and let them change us with their own expression?

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Your audience gives you everything you need .  .  . 
there is no director who can direct you like an audience.
 Fanny Brice

We create, and when we create, we are always faced with the question “Is it any good?,” or worse, “Is it bad?”

The supreme end of education is expert discernment in all things – –
the power to tell the good from the bad,
the genuine from the counterfeit,
and to prefer the good and the genuine
to the bad and the counterfeit. 
 Samuel Johnson (attributed)

We need an audience to tell us that.

In “Bird By Bird” Annie Lamott says that we are our best audience, that when we put things away and come back to them, we can tell our own good from bad.

To be tranny is to face stigma.  We are told from early times that we are wrong, and then told why: we are sick, perverted, depraved, ego-centered, indulgent mislead, trapped by patriarchy, servants of the devil, or whatever other reason people want to assign to dismiss and marginalize what we know in our heart, to pound down the nail that sticks up and embarasses or challenges them.

This leads us to our ultimate challenge: how do I know what part of my choices are good, and which are bad, or worse, which are evil?

We all have to come to some rule of understanding for that.  And one way we do that is to become an audience, searching and scanning for words that affirm our ideas & beliefs.  Beyond that, when we become a critical audience, we start searching and scanning for words that challenge our iedas & beliefs, and using them as a razor to remove what is false, flabby, diseased or disabling.

We become an audience to get an audience, scraping at each bit that we might use to shape ourselves.  If there is no one we believe can speak hear our truth with an open mind and heart, then we learn not to speak it, learn not to seek an audience.  Instead, we create an audience, not only looking for bits and pieces, but also for affirmations & challenges,

We need that audience, and in the closet — the one experience all queers share — finding that audience is tough.

This is the challenge, of course, of moving beyond your audience, to a place where they cannot yet come.  My experience of trans groups, which are often filled with newbies or those who need denial to stay in their closets, and often constructed so as not to challenge the weakest member — http://www.salon.com/jan97/women970113.html — this moving beyond the audience is not difficult to do.

For me, this means a lot of doubt wondering if I am coming from good — coming from God — or coming from someplace else, which results in analysis paralysis.  This is the method society uses to marginalize, of course.  If we constantly have to face small challenges, constantly have to doubt ourselves, we become disempowered, fighting the wet an sticky fog rather than powerfully embodying change.

It is an audience, from an affirming audience of one — two gathered in her name – to mentors and arbiters that can help, though we have to watch out that we are not just telling people what they want to hear.  It’s my rule of thumb that anyone who stands for creating separations and walls, us versus them, is creating dark comfort, and only those who stand for creating connections, looking at what we share, are creating bright blessings.

Lesa, thank you for sharing your own experiences and understandings.  Your comments on the path of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction are well taken.  That immersion in convention we have as children & teens before we have a real sense that there are a range of possibilities, that we can and must make choices that aren’t the same as the people around us, well, it’s so nice and simple.

Transgender emergence, as Ari Istar Lev calls it, well it’s a second adolesence, a second time through the process of creating a self, this time with a different set of options.  We get the power of seeing a wider world, but lose the social affirmation of change and play.  No one expects a teen to be all they will ever be in any moment, but that expectation weighs heavily on adults as they try on a new range of possibilities.   

Teen’s immersion in an audience who are enthusiastically committed to change every day is so different than trying change in an adult world where expectations and beliefs are often considered realties and facts.  We have to learn to cut ourselves off from lots of the audience to hear our own voice, and often that means we never really can come back to a place of committment, of exposure, of revelation, of intimacy.

We need the audience.  The one we create in our head will never surprise us by delighting in something we think of as small, will never embrace us in a way that makes us feel safe, seen and loved.

And without those blessings, we stay alone, scraping for scraps of reflection, vision, affirmation and healing.  It may well be a road that takes us to beautiful places out side the mainstream, but if we can’t share those sites and sights with other people, can’t see them through they eyes of others, growth is hard, and loneliness is inevitable.

And that means fighting the fog of stigma alone.

One thought on “Audiences”

  1. I made some notes for another post, but without responses the audience was cold.

    I’ll leave them here, for posterior.
    = = = = =
    – I always need to rembember that audiences responses tell more about them than about me. Everyone’s responses reveal more about them than me.

    – Your parents are your first audience, and if they stifle you, it’s very easy to stay stifled. In my case, at least smarts were affirmed.

    The gift of gracious receiving
    is one of the greatest gifts
    we can give anyone.
    Mister Fred Rogers

    – Mutual audiencing is important, the way we learn to affirm and polish each other

    – It comes down to the line between denial and vulnerability, how we learn to deny and how we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the audience.

    If you don’t trust someone, they will know it, and they will feel much less need and much less willingness to support you.

    Naked people are beautiful.

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