Laura Goodin is a jet pilot.

Let me explain: I met Laura when I tutored Clarion South back in 2007. One of my major rants was on the difference between artistic styles. There are two types, I pontificated– bus drivers, who always stick to the speed limit, never risk anything, but can be trusted to trundle from spot to spot on a timetable, safely, slowly, and allowing you to concentrate on other things all the while. And there are jet pilots, who may crash every now and then, but make us all look up and shout ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ as they streak past in their supersonic, supercool, brightly coloured sensawundazoommachines.

Laura, a transplanted Amerkan living in New South Wales, takes risks and makes us go ‘ooh’. So far she’s done it in markets like Wet Ink, Adbusters, ASIM, and The Lifted Brow. She’ll also do it soon in Daily Science Fiction and Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, a sale that makes me shiver with unrepentant, blood-spitting jealousy. She’s had plays produced here and in the UK,. and her poetry has been set for performance internationally. All this and she’s pursuing a PhD at the University of Western Australia. Frankly, I’m a little concerned that she may have given up valuable sleep time to compose her post for me. 

The point comes up with depressing regularity:  “No, you must create for yourself!  Not for an audience!  Banish all though of the audience from your mind!”  The idea seems to be that if you create for an audience, you are, by definition, trying to please them.  I would like to assert that the only true art is exactly that created for an audience. 

Before you dismiss me as being either an attention-hungry crawler or a money-grubbing hack, let me elaborate.  I believe a crucial distinction must be made between writing to please an audience and writing to reach them.  If I have something I desperately want people to know, to care about, of course I’m going to write (my art is writing) in such a way as to make that message as clear and effective as possible.  This requires that I think long and hard, with love and with daring, about the best way to say it so that my audience will understand.  This is a very far cry from fawning on them!  Chances are quite good they won’t thank me, particularly if the message is an uncomfortable one.  But my art demands that I try.

If I’m writing with literally no thought to anyone else in the world, and no-one will ever see the piece except me, you could say that that’s art for an audience of one, still created out of love and daring.  In contrast, if I’m writing to lash out at my audience, make them feel shame, make myself feel better at their expense; no matter how skillful I am, that’s not art.  And if I’m writing to manipulate them into giving me their money or their approval, because that’s what I crave, that’s not art.

In his truly excellent address given at the Boston Conservatory, Karl Paulnack makes a distinction between being an entertainer and being an artist.  He says, quite unabashedly, “Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet.”  His practice has led him to realize that art is serious business for all of us, audience and artist alike, and everything depends on it.

A work of art, true art, reminds us of the best that’s in us, and calls us to claim it: “Remember what you are, O human being:  glorious in power, magnificent, brave, kind, wise, beautiful, and very, very good.  Remember.

When any woman, any man, any child experiences art and becomes thereby more truly themselves, the world is healed just a little bit.  Artists have a wonderful and terrible job, the best job ever, the scariest job ever:  healing the world.  And that’s why true art demands an audience, and why the world demands true art.