Skip to main content


ICC 650
Box 571014

37th & O St, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20057

maps & directions

Phone: (202) 687.6400



Conflicts between the Creator and the Audience

I was recently reading a discussion about artists’ reactions to commentary on their work. While many artists view their work as occupying a place of its own, removed from the reach of discourse, their audience sometimes feels obliged to analyze it, dissect it, categorize its various attributes, and induce from those attributes the central meanings and intents of the creator. I recall artists saying, “If that’s what you see in it, that’s ok with me.” Other artists find commentary dissecting their work as mainly irrelevant to what they believe they are doing in life. Still others are offended. Clearly, similar reactions occur, but perhaps at a different rate, in the literary arts, where words rather than materials are the medium.

However, it does seem when a piece generates intense and long-lasting attention by the audience, it signals an important contribution. Work that is discussed and dissected by hundreds of audience members over years generally is viewed as valuable.

I wondered whether there are similar distinctions between the creator and the audience in the social sciences and natural sciences. These domains of creation are governed by more well-defined paradigms, greater constraints on forms of presentation, and heavily governed norms of conclusions. The act of creation required for the product may be more linked explicitly to past work; its uniqueness has less value.

Further, while some of the power of art is its ability to generate different reactions across audience members, much of the focus of scientific papers is guiding the reader to a single reaction. The desired reaction is a certainty that the conclusion of the writer is correct.

But research papers do sometimes generate diverse reactions. This generally occurs in one of three ways. First, readers may question the conclusions as being unjustified by the presented evidence. Such reactions often occur during the peer-review process that precedes the dissemination of a research product. If such skepticism is displayed by several reviewers, the product is not disseminated by the publication organ.

Second, the readers may question the integrity of the data generation process. If this occurs during peer review, it may similarly yield a rejection by the journal. If an article appears that generates such reaction, it can sometimes stimulate another researcher to mount a rebuttal to the original paper.

Third, the readers may question whether the required assumptions underlying the research findings are plausible. When this occurs, other work is also stimulated, but this generally is work that portends important developments might possibly be occurring. Many fields wobble back and forth between periods of relative stability and periods of controversy and ferment. In the times of stability, there is consensus on the important questions and the appropriate methods to address the questions. But all approaches to inquiry rest on certain assumptions. When a field begins to questions those basic, well-accepted assumptions, look out for controversy! Further, when a paper generates intense and long-lasting discussions challenging long-held assumptions, it is often viewed as an important contribution.

So, compared to artists facing critics deconstructing their work into constituent components, the world of social and natural sciences seems inevitably different. Acts of creation explicitly build on one another over time dialectically. Critical dissection is desired and mandatory. That is how the goal of the creator (the conclusion he or she reached) is widely acknowledged as having been achieved. Where the two domains of creation come back together, however, is the fact that intense controversy and long-lasting discussions about a piece of work generally means something important has been created.

2 thoughts on “Conflicts between the Creator and the Audience

  1. When I was growing up in Australia, many decades ago, there was a flexibly defined activity called Art Appreciation, in which one was invited to contemplate works of art by becoming familiar with art history, with the gamut of techniques and genres, then, ideally, by reading autobiographies and statements by well-known artists, the whole purpose being to develop a more layered and refined approach to the mysterious deployment of artistic creativity in painting, engravings and sculpture. No doubt some who engaged seriously in this activity subsequently became critics, who were expected to articulate what we academics call Discourse. However, that is not the only intelligent form of feedback in the artistic realm, since many who develop great interest in the Arts — and here we can also embrace music, theater and dance — do not feel the need to espouse critical judgements, if by that term we are thinking of agreed-upon conceptual resolutions which can become intellectually bankable. That is why those in the groves of academe who also are creative artists have a special mission : to create traffic where the existential, the aesthetic, the conceptual, the spiritual and the emotional can ideally interact and converge to reinspire originality of perception and performance.

  2. Academic discussion can be a signal that the work (artistic work or scientific work) is salient; however, from another viewpoint, the importance of the work is signaled by whether or not the work leads to actions by others and/or benefits to others. Were perceptions changed by the artwork? Were policies changed by the scientific work? Was joy stimulated by the artwork? Was utility promoted by the scientific work?

    If the creator is divorced from feedback from the audience then is that a sign of narcissism?

    What motivates the particular artist or scientist, and for what reason does the artist or scientist pay attention (or not pay attention) to the audience? Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development suggests some motivations [I know, “Have Theory, Will Travel”]: (1) avoid punishment, (2) obtain rewards, (3) get along with others, (4) obey rules, (5) be a good citizen or (6) love others!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202)

Connect with us via: