Audience of One

Audience of One – A succinct reminder that Christians should not care what others think but should be satisfied with pleasing God. (This probably originated from Bible verses like Galatians 1:10, which asks whether we are seeking the approval of God or man.)

music stand empty roomAt the Cascade Restaurant, the floor is red and black tile scuffed up by over 85 years of shuffling feet.

It’s the one of the only restaurants you’ll see between Lutsen and Grand Marais, and on both nights of our weekend away last month, the parking lot was full of pickup trucks.

We went there both nights because the whole place was lit up from within, and because there was live music…and there’s just something about live music.

In the Cascade Restaurant, there are wagon-wheel chandeliers and the Christmas decorations are still up in February. We sit beneath a roaring bear bust that’s molting a little around the eyes, and the whole local crowd seems to be there in their sensible boots and their flannel.

And when the guy in the corner with the guitar begins to play and sing, they listen closely or they don’t. They talk a little louder to one another and laugh hearty. They tuck into greasy Cascade Burgers, or they sit quietly at a small bar table, beer in hand, taking it all in.

It doesn’t seem to matter to him. He just keeps playing. One song after another. Covers and originals and that song he wrote for his daughter, who is a young woman now, sitting at the back of the bar. She comes and gives him a kiss on the cheek after he plays it.

And you can tell that he loves it. That he loves them, the people in this bar. That he doesn’t care how they receive this gift he is giving, just that he gives it.

Few are truly honed in, few listen attentively. (Andrew and I are playing backgammon and eating a plate of Cajun French fries.) But he plays in the background with all of his heart. He sings and he smiles wide, and he’ll never be on American Idol or cut a major record deal. I can’t even remember his name. But on that cold, dark Minnesota night, the whole place is filled music. And it’s something.

*

To be a Christian and an artist of any kind is to receive a hundred conflicting messages about purpose. About your role. About what you should care about and what you should not.

In a world where everything is a commoditized, the power of Christianity lies in its claim that our worth is not defined by the world around us. We are defined not by Facebook likes or by compliments or by blog followers. Not by the number of people who want to date us…or don’t. We are not our talent, our looks, our jobs, our incomes or our wardrobes.

We matter because God says we do. Our achievements do not change that; our failure does not detract from it. We are loved equally, eternally, deeper than the ocean, higher than the sky.

But also, we live in a world where it matters if you tweet and publicize your work. Where numbers mean something to someone somewhere. In this noisy world, if you want to publish a book or make a record or sell a painting, you have to work for it. If you want to create a successful business, you have to market like crazy.

And if we’re not careful, we become dishonest in the tension.

Instead of saying the truth, we throw out platitudes. Instead of admitting that we care if you show up, that we want to be heard, we insist that we don’t…that we only care what God thinks. And in doing so, we cultivate an atmosphere of shame…both for our hidden hearts and for one another.

We have this dirty rotten habit of pulling scripture out of their greater Biblical context, and using them to legislate our feelings. You shouldn’t care about this because God is enough. Or Audience shouldn’t matter because God is your Audience of One!

Listen: God is enough. This is true. What he says about you and your worth…this is completely true and completely enough. He is satisfied with you. Your work, whatever it is, is good, and you don’t have to hit a number of fans or sell a certain amount of tickets to matter.

But it’s also true that it won’t always feel like it. And part of the work of faith is learning to navigate the chasm between what feels true and what is in a way that is honest.

Because God is enough…and also we were made for relationship, for each other. It’s true that songs are meant to be heard and words are meant to be read and paintings are meant to be seen, and it’s okay if you want your work to mean something to someone. There is no sin in that; there is no shame.

audience of one

In the Cascade Restaurant, the line between musician and audience is thin – if it exists at all. In one moment, the man is singing, in the next, he’s talking to us all like old friends. He starts into Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” and we are foot-tapping, singing along.

And if you spend too much time in the faceless internet, or reading the statistics or worrying about what you should be feeling if you’re a good Christian, you’ll miss the truth about art.

In the end, art not about differentiating between audience and performer. It’s about making those lines disappear. It’s about tapping into those deep-down truths that course through us all, the ones that we can’t say any other way. It’s about connecting to the Creator-heart of God and knowing him better because of it.

It’s the smell of beer on tap and the sound of laughter and conversation all around you, weaving into your music, sometimes louder than your own lyrics. And it’s okay. None of that detracts from what you’re doing here.

It’s all part of the same song. The one we’re singing together. The one that matters.

25 thoughts on “Audience of One

  1. This resonates with me. I’ve been thinking about this very thing this morning and you’ve put words to my thoughts, in a way I couldn’t. As usual. Lovely Addie. Thank you. I’m going back for a second read.

  2. Interesting piece, Addie. This passage stuck out to me: “Instead of admitting that we care if you show up, that we want to be heard, we insist that we don’t…that we only care what God thinks.” Of course we want to be seen or heard. Art is a distinctly humanist endeavor. It is about telling the human story, using language or media to portray scenes from the human experience. The idea of making art for the “audience of one,” strikes me as odd, and I wonder if there’s a single artist who would be telling the truth if they said they created their art for the sole purpose of pleasing their god. If that’s the goal, it seems like the communicative nature of art is pushed aside. I listen to a ton of reggae, and some of the artists truly believe in jah and view their art as a way to connect with their notion of a creator. But, in the end, it isn’t about jah, it’s about people. It’s about sound and words and feelings, people coming together and sharing in each others’ experiences, listening to what the other has to say. I appreciate works of art from people of all religious backgrounds, but art is an outpouring of response to the cliched “human condition,” which is why we can all appreciate the art and the artist as a person, regardless of the religious beliefs or motives of the artist. When I first saw the Sistine Chapel, I stood there literally for three hours in a state of complete awe. Who cares what Michaelangelo thought about god or hell… he made something beautiful in which others can participate. Last thing, your line about the transcendental nature of art is just great: “In the end, art not about differentiating between audience and performer. It’s about making those lines disappear.”Thanks for posting such intriguing stuff!

    1. Great thoughts Isaac. I love what you bring to this conversation as an artist. This line struck me in particular: “The idea of making art for the “audience of one,” strikes me as odd, and I wonder if there’s a single artist who would be telling the truth if they said they created their art for the sole purpose of pleasing their god. If that’s the goal, it seems like the communicative nature of art is pushed aside.” YES. Perfect.

  3. This rings so true to me. I almost don’t have the mental energy today to even respond, but there’s so much truth. I go through much ebb and flow as a musician, and it seems that the past years are mostly marked by feeling that it isn’t very worthwhile. My recent foray into drumming has been a lot of fun, but it’s still easy to come to a point of frustration, a point of feeling that it has no real worth. Maybe it’s even destructive, so why even pursue it? Sure, God hears me play, but does he really care? I mean, REALLY? I’m just banging on drums because it’s fun for ME, is God even listening? Should I be praising him more thoroughly by spending more time with my kids instead of selfishly hammering at mylar skins on birch drums? There are tons of drummers in the world already, why do I waste time on this? No one in my world NEEDS me to be a drummer. I’m almost 45 years old, what can I bring to that party?

    The “audience of One” mentality brings almost no satisfaction to me. Even the idea of living to please God and completely ignoring what others think is horribly unsatisfying, because even people that espouse that idea COMPLETELY are still significantly guilty of seeking out people who agree with them about what pleases God and what doesn’t. WE ALL NEED THE ACCOLADE OF OTHERS.

    And, somehow, I believe that the interaction between humans is actually more in line with what God has in mind than the mystical intercourse of Holy Spirit and mankind.

  4. I really liked your description of the musician you heard: “He doesn’t care how they receive this gift he is giving, just that he gives it.” I wish we could all be so generous with our art. There are many amateur artists in my family, and growing up I was very aware of that tension between wanting to create art for its own sake and wanting to have an appreciative audience. God adds a whole new dimension to the equation though: you can at least count on having a minimum audience of one. Even when it feels like no one else is listening, or when there’s a lot of weird hype about your work, there will always be One who appreciates it as just what it is, nothing more and nothing less: a part of the great song that matters.

    Thanks for sharing your own art so generously. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Rachel. Love this: “that tension between wanting to create art for its own sake and wanting to have an appreciative audience.” Yes.

  5. YES. A hearty Amen to all of this. I write because of God and I want my writing to resonate with others because of God and I want my blog to grow and for a book deal to happen and and and. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and, as you’ve richly demonstrated here.

  6. Somehow, Addie, during your deep winter–under the bleak white of why and purpose and how–you have emerged into this, the revelation of spring, the true voice of one crying out in the wilderness, telling us to not be ashamed because it, like God, is enough.

  7. “But it’s also true that it won’t always feel like it. And part of the work of faith is learning to navigate the chasm between what feels true and what is in a way that is honest.” this line- so well said. thank you.

  8. What strikes me–particularly reading the comments from everyone–is how much we bring our own personal schmutz to this issue. I wrote my book after 20-odd years running my own advertising business, where I learned to think that it’s ALL about measurable results. So part of my task now (as I see it) is to focus on the simple faithfulness of doing the work of writing, almost to the exclusion of book sales and Amazon rankings and such. I might be overcompensating, true. But bottom line, maybe this Audience of One/audience of many both/and thing is actually a spectrum, and we find our place on it based on what we bring to the endeavor. Does that make any sense?

    1. That could be. I fall on a different point of the spectrum during different points in the day or the week. When I’m doing the work itself — writing — I rarely think about audience. But often after I’ve put something out into the internet, I feel the communicative/audience piece comes forward a bit and I’m much more focused on that.

  9. “We become dishonest in the tension. Instead of saying the truth, we throw out platitudes…” “…pulling scriptures out of their greater Biblical context, and using them to legislate our feelings.”

    Yes. This is powerful. We do try to legislate our feelings and then fall apart in shame when we don’t feel what is “right.” And the truth is, our motives are always impure to some degree, hidden or not. Mine are. It’s that cycle of guilt and shame that traps me and prevents me from enjoying the blessings that God has given me, the life he has already redeemed. In my own life, I can see how this applies to so much of what I do — as a wife and mother especially.

    I really appreciate your writing. Thank you. Here’s to being honest!

    1. Thanks Jennifer. Yes this — “And the truth is, our motives are always impure to some degree, hidden or not.” I have this lie in my head that I have to get my motives totally pure before God will bless my work. And I know it’s not true, but it creeps up all the time. Thanks for this lovely reminder.

  10. this is a really honest and provoking post, addie. thanks for always taking time to articulate the complexities of how we’re living in the world… the best we can do is to keep forging ahead with our work! and trust the spirit living in us! 🙂

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