Smarter Audiences. Better Art.

Antonio Pappano

Art for art’s sake is so last century.

Classical music audiences who dress up, fall asleep, and then give a standing ovation? Dance audiences whose reference point is the time they were in a Martha Graham class? Theatre audiences who think it’s ever so cutting edge to watch something with no story, no characters, and no ability to articulate a language? That’s all so yesterday.

For the sake of art, art’s imperative is to create informed audiences.

As posted in the KadmusArts daily arts news feed this week, a study of 24 to 36 year olds attending classical music concerts came up with an obvious, if too-often overlooked summary: young audiences blame their own lack of knowledge as an obstacle to enjoying the music.

In other words, the less you know about something the less you can enjoy it. Sure, the knowledge transfer can be supported by educational systems and family habits. However, the primary responsibility lies with the artists and arts organizations themselves.

Audiences need context. They want to learn. After all, the very reason audiences go to a live event is to expand their palette of knowledge, experience, and understanding — of our condition and of themselves.

A few words in a program is no longer good enough. Easy access to the digital world means that it should be easy for the arts to provide a knowledge base for their audiences before, during and after the performance.

Antonio Pappano has the right idea. The music director of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilla hosts a TV series tracing the history of Italian opera. His passion is infectious. His teaching is inspiring. The combination makes one want to rush out and buy a ticket.

Even rock stars are doing the right thing. They often give their fans a backstage experience and introduce songs by talking about what inspired the writing. Their art makes us feel as though they are singing our own stories of love, loss, and gain. The days of having high art accessible only to the cognoscenti did no one any good.

Unfortunately, too many artists and arts organizations are too focused on how many tweets they’ve posted, how many friends they have, and how hip their social network is. That’s a mistake. It feels good, but it does nothing to build a paying audience.

Let your audiences take care of the social network. The obligation of the artists and their organizations is to give audiences something to talk about, something to post, and something to share.

- Bill Reichblum

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6 Responses to “Smarter Audiences. Better Art.”

  1. Shoshana
    November 9th, 2010 12:15

    Hi Bill,

    I want to say Bravo! to this post. I have been advocating for this very thing, less focus on quantity and more on quality, and the responsibility to help educate the audience does lie with the artists/arts organizations.

    There must have been a common energy yesterday since I too posted a blog to take this conversation one step further. I want to challenge artists and arts organizations to educate themselves on how to engage with their audiences and how to build relationships with their audiences. We have been so far removed from this type of interaction for centuries, that it is time to relearn how to communicate again. Here is the link to my blog:

    Thank you so much, Bill, for speaking out. The more we can take responsibility for our circumstances, the more positive action will take place.

    Shoshana Fanizza
    Audience Development Specialists

  2. Tweets that mention KadmusArts – where culture speaks » Blog Archive » Smarter Audiences. Better Art. --
    November 9th, 2010 12:27

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shoshana Fanizza, Dr. Ashfaq Ishaq. Dr. Ashfaq Ishaq said: Smarter Audiences. Better Art.: Art for art’s sake is so last century. Classical music audiences who dress up, f… [...]

  3. Bill
    November 9th, 2010 22:47

    Thank you, Shoshana.
    Also it’s really great to learn about your work on Audience Development!

  4. Karla
    November 12th, 2010 02:11

    Bill, providing a context in which the audience can access art makes sense of course, and teaching audiences new conventions, new codes of codes and languages is also part of the process. This is what Shakespeare was probably doing with the Mousetrap - alerting Elizabethan audiences to new ways of performing and reception. What doesn’t make sense is that phrase ‘It’s all so yesterday’ - as though experimental phases in art serve no purpose, and are to be disguarded as you would a fashion accessory. Arguably 21s century artforms would be dull or irrelevant without the 20th innnovations that shocked and alienated many audiences of that time. Also that assertion that’the less you know about something the less you can enjoy it’ is pretty sweeping. Again, not denying value of context and background knowledge, but part of the pleasure of art - and I speak from my own experience and from observations of the S.London teenagers that I teach - is visceral and as such its about ‘knowing’ outside of language. Sometimes you can nail down the meaning and worth of art so clearly that it evacuates any space for discovery.

  5. A little education goes a long way!
    November 15th, 2010 14:43

    [...] across The KadmusArts Blog the other day via Shoshana Fanizza (great first name, btw) and was pretty much stopped in my [...]

  6. Bill
    November 29th, 2010 14:13

    Thanks so much.
    What you say makes sense. I totally agree that all of our art forms are enhanced by those working at and on the edge. That is absolutely true. As is your description of the impact of seeing or experiencing something that is startling new. However, when an audience yawns not with ignorance but with having seen it before in an original form then one is in trouble. Similarly, when artists or their organizers shy away from the audience then there is a problem. The goal is connection, and in the best of cases, a genuine shock to the system. Here’s looking forward to the next round, and the newest work.

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