Blog / 2021 / Figuring Out Who Will Like Your Art

April 29, 2021

He told me that my web presence didn’t match how he saw me. He said that I seemed so serious, talking via video chat, but that my site was positively cheerful. I responded:

Different people bring out different sides of my personality.

I was annoyed. This was supposed to be peer-to-peer mentoring, and the peers I’d been paired with were both cis males. The one had a bad case of toxic masculinity, to the point where talking about emotional things seemed effeminate to him—not ideal when you’re trying to verbalize about your art practice. The other, Mr. You’re-So-Serious, kept apologizing for not giving me much feedback, but then proceeded to not actually give me any new feedback.

Within moments of meeting these guys, I was sure they weren’t in my audience. Curiosity is the first and only non-negotiable rule of Gwenn’s Audience, and, like too many cis males, these two couldn’t muster much interest for people who weren’t them.

For a lot of artists, the idea that certain kinds of people aren’t meant to see their art seems harsh, but, like I said to Mr. You’re-So-Serious, different people bring out different sides of you. We all change a bit based on our mood and the social cues of a given situation. Saying that absolutely everybody could be your audience is the same as saying that you are always interesting to everybody, which is obviously not true.

illustration of a strawberry
Gwenn Seemel
Strawberry
2020
acrylic, colored pencil, and marker on paper
3 x 3 inches
(From a series of images that ended up teaching me about my values and, therefore, my audience.)

A good way to determine who might actually like your art is to consider this list of activities that many people engage in on a weekly basis. Ask yourself if the individuals who appreciate your work do these things regularly:

  • go to visual or performing arts events
  • attend a place of worship
  • shop for non-essential items
  • go to sports events
  • go to restaurants
  • cook for pleasure
  • garden
  • hike or walk for fun
  • write for pleasure
  • take photos instead of simply snapshots
  • craft
  • make visual art or do some kind of performance
  • meditate
  • smoke or ingest cannabis
  • drink alcohol
  • participate in sports
  • fire guns
  • fish
  • play board games or do puzzles
  • play video games
  • watch TV
  • read non-fiction
  • read novels
  • volunteer
  • care for pets

If you’re stuck, first pick out activities that you engage in every week. It’s very possible that your audience does these things too.

From there, you can start to get more precise. For example, I cook for pleasure—I mean I do it by necessity but I usually enjoy it—and, specifically, I cook vegan. While that doesn’t automatically mean that all vegans love my art, it’s not a stretch to say that people who make fun of veganism are not my core audience. I don’t spend a lot of time judging those people, but I also don’t go out of my way to interest them in what I’m doing, even though my art has never directly addressed veganism as a topic.

Do the people in your audience tend to be gardeners? Do they prefer to plant food or flowers? If they’re amateur singers, do you know what music they like? Do they watch a lot of television? If so, what are their favorite shows?

Once you’re clearer on what your audience likes to do, then the question becomes:

Where are people with those specific interests likely to come across your art?

There will always be people who surprise you—like the one avid Trump supporter I know who still follows my art, for example—but mostly your audience is going to be made up of individuals who share your values, like the same sorts of things as you do, and can be found wherever you are.

If you’re still having trouble figuring out who likes your art, check out this blog post about people who aren’t part of most artists’ audiences and come to my online talk at 5:30p EDT next Thursday via Venture Café Philadelphia!

Gwenn Seemel speaking at University City Science Center’s Venture Café in Philadelphia

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