Simple Questions for Artists – #3

by Geoff Hall on December 21, 2015

December 2015 – Simple Questions for artists – #3

Who is it for?

Mentoring for word, image and performance art.

Mentoring for word, image and performance art.




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?


We’ve relocated those questions to the artist and this month we are looking at ‘Who is it for?’

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’re speaking to ‘everyman’, but in fact we are speaking to people who engage with film, poetry, dance, music, or art. This is not everyone in the world.

If I started to expound the glories of Tarkovsky’s films and his cinematic aesthetic as a metaphor for his transcendent spirituality, for some of you (sadly) your eyes would start to glaze over. Some have complained that his films are ‘difficult’, as if all we were meant to create was an ‘easy’ art; an art which glosses over the state of the world and the complexities of the Fall. This is not necessarily propaganda, but could be the point where Disneyland meets the teachings of Jesus. “Thy Disneyland come, Thy theme parks be built, in Europe as they are in America.”

Minnie Mouse as the Mona Lisa. Courtesy of

Minnie Mouse as the Mona Lisa. Courtesy of


Whilst working with Producers in the USA, they would keep telling me to find the universal story, or discover universal themes. What I think they sense is a transcendence which can be fitted into any genre; appeal to a wider audience than just fans of conspiracy tales, or supernatural dramas. What it’s actually addressing is art, in this case a TV drama which is a socially conscious, that speaks to a need, or in fact several needs.


We know what they are. We see a bloody, violent world, people having a growing sense of alienation and powerlessness; nihilistic fatalism as we apparently approach the end of the world, a world of glaring inequalities, poverty, famine and epidemics of deadly diseases. The fruits of continual conflict and warfare.


Seth Godin asks this question of us, ‘Who is it for?

“It’s almost impossible for a piece of writing to change someone. It’s definitely impossible for it to change everyone. So… who is this designed to reach? What do they believe? Do they trust you? Are they inclined to take action?”


We mentioned in the last ‘Simple Questions for Artists’ about making intentional art. Intentional art means we have to be ‘socially conscious’ if we want to reach the world of our audience, indeed to develop our audience.


Godin goes on to say this.

“Most inventors and marketers start with what they have (the stuff) and try to work backward to the ‘who is it for’ question. It makes a lot more sense to go the other direction. Identify a set of fears, dreams and attitudes and then figure out what sort of story fits that lock in a way that delights the consumer. Then go build that.”


Did you pick up on that?


“Identify a set of fears, dreams and attitudes and then figure out what sort of story fits that lock in a way that delights the consumer. Then go build that.”


The worst kind of art is that which suggests, or its raison d’être is to get people to go to Church, or be part of this or that institution or club. Say the right words, in the right order and you too can be saved and rise above the violence in the world. (Hogwarts meets Ecclesiastical dogma – ‘wingardium leviosa’ as the say in parts of Gryffindor and Canterbury).


I wrote this a few years ago,


“We have lost the vision for an art informed by our faith, that isn’t determined by the power symbols of the institution. Such are the times of our sojourn under the influence of the propaganda from the secularised institutions of art and politics. We have long lost, through neglect, the human connection between artist and patron. This is quite different for the artist (of any medium) who has formed a dependency on the institution to provide a means of producing their work. Art-making decided by a bureaucracy tends towards the needs of the bureaucracy and not of the population-at-large outside of its doors, nor of the artist.”  Translating the Invisible Wind – Upptacka Press website, Part 6 ‘Propaganda’.

Upptacka logo copy



So, what fears can we discern, what dreams do people hold for the future, indeed what nightmares, what are the prevailing attitudes towards the various crises of life? (terrorism, poverty, displaced communities, climate change, corporate tax evasion, gun violence in America, hunger in the UK, peace).

If we are conscious artists (word play there) socially connected, then in whatever art we are committed to, it should address such things.


Who is it for?


It’s for a world barely coping with the tragedies of this current age. As far as I’m aware not one of the Syrian refugees is looking for refuge in Disneyland Paris; so let’s not provide them with signpost art, but with the art of compassion, of calls for justice and speaking truth to the powerful.


An art, not of propaganda for the status quo, but of non-violent resistance; of non-cooperation with evil and civil disobedience. An art which cries out in the wilderness, that we will not consent to the violence and injustice of the current troubles.


To do this, we have to be ‘this’. To transform, we must be transformed. Some have called this incarnation, which this season of joy reminds us of. Embody the art you want to create.


Happy Christmas.




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.


Be Well.


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