Being “Audience”

I am looking forward to travel this fall. Later this month we are heading to New York City to see the Broadway show “Hamilton” and to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the permanent collection as well as the John Singer Sargent Exhibition. We are topping it all off with a baseball game at Yankee Stadium before heading home. I started to think about my role as “audience” and the opportunity to be part of an audience in three different forms. In a long career as an art teacher I also thought about all those ways we talked about my student’s roles as an arts audience, a discussion even for the Pre-K art classes.

These thoughts brought me back to a book I had read titled “Audience Engagement and the Role of Arts in the Digital Era” by Lynne Conner. Conners had a very astute take on the difference between the audience for the arts and the audience for sports. She asks the question if sports were culturally packaged the way the arts are in the United States would that industry be facing the same issue as engagement that the arts face right now?

…As I have written elsewhere, sports fans are constantly being invited to participate in publicly structured processes of interpretation; in our society, opportunities for the analysis of and debate around sporting events abound. The distinction here is obvious-we don’t have the same attitude or approach to being an arts fan as we do to being a sports fan. We rarely carry the energy of an art-experience into our work environment, and we rarely (if ever) feel knowledgeable or empowered enough to debate the meaning or value of an arts event….Why is it that sports fans don’t hesitate to analyze and debate? I firmly believe it is because they have been given the cultural permission to express their opinions openly and the tools they need to back up their opinions.

Connor advocates for public opportunity to share our individual interpretations through social structures. As we all know there is heightened pleasure in being able to engage in discourse with others about our individual responses and that leads to a much deeper engagement. Talking for most of us helps us to fully process our opinions and brings us closer to what being “audience” is all about.

It is an interesting book where Conner explores the essential question, “What makes arts experiences meaningful? A great question for anyone who creates or supports the arts.