Who needs an audience?

At a debate on “The Arts and the Economy” last Thursday evening (15th April), hosted by Irish PEN, one of the speakers suggested that artists need to think about their audience. There was some bristling at this. A woman stood up to declare that an artist’s first engagement is with the self, and out of that comes an engagement with the world. An audience is by the by, she said.

This interested me. I think many writers shy away from considering an ‘audience’, as if such considerations lessen the artistic value of the writing. But bear with me for a minute: at workshops I always talk about reading, ask people to think about what reading is for, what they like to read themselves and why. A fundamental part of the workshop process is about learning how to read like a writer, but also how to write like a reader. By that I mean going right inside the world you’re making on the page, as far in as it’s possible to go. Drawing Virginia Woolf’s imaginary curtains; creating John Gardiner’s ‘vivid, continuous dream’.But the worlds we build with words – on the page, on a computer screen, to be spoken by actors on screen or stage – would be wasted if no one came along to share them. Why go to all that effort, only to create the literary equivalent of the ghost estates that now litter the country, thanks to the geniuses who ‘lead’ us?
Without writers, there’d be no readers. Without readers, there’d be no writers. Chicken, egg. Egg, chicken.

(For those of you who wonder why ‘Libran Writer’, there’s your answer.)

The debate was well-informed and thought-provoking. Can the arts rescue the economy? To what extent should artists engage with the economy? When will the Revolution begin? One speaker was keen for it to start immediately, with the audience departing en masse for the Dáil; but it was late and everyone was tired …

The panellists were: Arthur Lappin (film & TV producer), Declan Kiberd (literary critic & Chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at UCD), Gerry Godley (musician & broadcaster, spokesperson for the National Campaign for the Arts), Claire Doody (Cultural Odyssey) and Aidan Burke (the Arts Council). Marita Conlon McKenna was the chair.Contributions from the floor came from writers, publishers, filmmakers, and representatives of the Arts Council.

Anyone who hasn’t been there yet, go to the National Campaign for the Arts website: http://www.ncfa.ie
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