Simple Questions for Artists – #2

by Geoff Hall on November 30, 2015

November 2015 

Mentoring for word, image and performance arts.

Mentoring for word, image and performance arts.




We are following Seth Godin’s 4 simple questions for writers.

  1. Who are you?
  2. What is it for?
  3. Who is it for?
  4. Will it spread?


Whilst his focus was on writers, I think we could extend that to any of the arts.

Last month we focussed on ‘identity’ and who we are. This month we are looking at ‘What is it for?’

Godin’s view for the writer’s creativity is dynamic and not merely producing something for consumption.


He speaks of it like this,


“If this piece of writing works, what will change? What action will be taken?

The more specific you are in your intent…the more likely it is to succeed.”


What is my intent as a writer? Is it to amuse myself? To be locked up in my study and keep me out of mischief? To find a small but committed audience in Bristol? To change the way I perceive the world? Is the focus on ‘what serves me’?


This question challenges us about our intent as creators. It also asks of us, perhaps even demands from us, to create work which changes things, us, our audience, and the world.


Much of the mentoring I’ve had as a writer points me towards the realisation that universal stories create a wide audience and small stories, clever intricate and cannily fashioned ones have a limited audience appeal, perhaps for those who are part of an exclusive and elite cabal. Its language excludes others who are not in the know.


How much of what we create is destined for a sub-culture and not the cultural mainstream? We are perhaps conflicted if we speak of a universal story, but one which is dressed up in sub-cultural language and symbolism. The world of the sub-trope!


U2 - Innocence + Experience Tour 2015. (graffiti banner)

U2 – Innocence + Experience Tour 2015. (graffiti banner)










I went to see U2 at the 02 in London during October, with Richard Taylor. I think we agreed that the reports of their demise has been greatly exaggerated! We were treated to a 3 dimensional, multi-media performance. A massive two-sided LED screen hanging from a gantry, had a performance stage in between and was used to stunning effect, when the images fractured and allowed us to see their performance.


U2’s massive appeal is multi-generational; the music and its performance were woven evocatively with contemporary issues of violence and the refugee crisis.


We spoke to a young lad, aged 17, who had travelled from North Wales to see them. Apparently he’d been a fan since his birth! Another couple of die-hard U2 fans next to us asked if he was at the Pop Mart Tour gig at one particular venue. He said “No”. “Oh”, said the two guys who’d obviously toured the world watching the band. “That’s the day I was born!” came the reply.


So you see, if you focus on issues that matter, perform with passion and connect with your audience, then your career can have longevity and a wide appeal. What has changed because U2 do what they do? Well, I think the story of compassion, humanity and non-violence is reaching a new generation, whilst the older generation becomes bolder in working for peace. Their music is a catalyst for change, it embraces, it doesn’t push people away.


Has anything changed? Well, in Ireland it has! Bono testified to this. And I think when the ‘War’ album was being toured, it was songs like ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ which had a worrying effect on the IRA and led the band to receive death threats, if they continued to be outspoken about the Troubles.


We can only bring what we carry in our hearts. Are we trying to create a fan club or change the world? If it is the latter, then firstly we have to carry that change within us. Then, it will be woven into what we produce.


Art isn’t about self-expression. Art isn’t just a product like wallpaper, to cover the cracks in our interior lives; it’s about asking deep questions at the heart of humanity and society. It should provoke, ask difficult questions, and be a voice of lament for those wounded by ‘armies of justice’, by Governments and factions. For all those who say they represent ‘us’ seem to be bent on violence and the destruction of the ‘other’. They apparently work in ‘our name’. Why then is there such a divide between what the people want and what those people do?


It’s time for us to realise that there’s a bigger story than expressing our disappointments, fears and hurts. We have to be a voice for the voiceless and help them to seek, to be a people of peace, justice and healing.


And so I’ll return to Richard Rohr’s prayer for ourselves, our friends and family and all people of the earth.


May we be free from inner and outer harm and danger.

May we be safe and protected.

May we be free of mental suffering or distress.

May we be happy.

May we be free of physical pain and suffering.

May we be healthy and strong.

May we be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.


May we be intentional artists!

Be Well.


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