The value of creativity can often get lost in the cogs of a larger business machine. Once a new design is approved, executives turn their attention to material costs, production schedules and sales forecasts. The creative spark that came up with that new design is now an historical event.
In his book An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake, Srinivas Rao argues that any creative endeavor is ultimately undervalued if it is done at the command of others. There is an inevitable compromise as your work is modified to meet audience expectations, with the end result that your work lacks any of its original authenticity.
Rao believes that if you can remain committed to creativity “for its own sake” rather than chasing external rewards such as fame and financial reward, you can learn to produce your best work. Being your own audience –– the audience of one –– not only reaffirms your well-being but also preserves the joy of the creative process.
To achieve that goal, you must follow a counterintuitive path that teaches you how to listen to your creativity, yourself, your environment and others:
Listening to Creativity. Rao proposes that treating creativity as a ticket to external rewards such as fame and fortune will inevitably stifle the creative process. You end up chasing your target audience and modifying your work to please a fickle master. If you are willing to take a leap of faith and embrace creativity for its own sake, the creative process becomes your source of happiness. Instead of chasing the next record deal, gallery showing or book review, you can feel the joy of simply being immersed in the work itself.
Listening to Yourself. The moment you start seeking approval from others for your work is the moment you stop listening to yourself. You are now in pursuit of an external standard that you feel pressured to meet. If you are dependent on your creativity to earn a living, that pressure can be stifling.
Learning to listen to yourself begins with clarifying your own values and learning to trust your responses to anything that doesn’t align with those values. Questioning everything you’re told and challenging superficial responses to those questions will build your confidence and allow your creativity to flow more freely.
Listening to Your Environment. Your physical space has the power to inspire your creativity or to smother it. Every color, sound, smell and texture can be calming or distracting, and, the author argues, if you are not in control of that environment, it will be in control of you. Clearing physical clutter is essential to freeing up mental space, and the fewer distractions you have, the more you are free to focus on your work.
Listening to Others. Taking on too many tasks in the creation and delivery of your art is both inefficient and frustrating. You need peers, colleagues and subcontractors to free you up to concentrate on what you do best. If you isolate yourself to avoid distractions, you forgo the positive energy of community support. You also deny yourself the opportunity of an alternative perspective that could make your work even better.
The Paradox of Creative Work
Rao quotes cultural icon David Bowie’s assessment of his own artistic career: “I didn’t strive for success. I tried to do something artistically important.” That, from the author’s perspective, is the paradox of creative work. If you create for an audience of one, your work is much more likely to resonate with an audience of millions, as Bowie’s work did.
An Audience of One offers a counterintuitive path back to the joy of the creative process. If you need an audience for your work and the financial remuneration it provides, Srinivas Rao suggests that by remaining focused on an audience of one –– yourself - you can preserve the purpose and authenticity of your art while still keeping a roof over your head.