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” ‘Who is your audience?’ This is commonly the first questions educators ask about any pedagogical activity in the planning. In art, by contrast, to preestablish an audience is seen by some to restrict a work’s possible impact, which is why many artists are usually reluctant to answer that question about their work.

In the movie Field of Dreams, an Iowa frmer walking through a cornfield suddenly hears a voice saying, ‘If you build it, he will come.’ He envisions a baseball field and is strongly compelled to build it. The phrase has entered the English language in the variation of ‘build it and they will come’ as if it is an adage of ancient wisdom and not from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter. The implied message is that building comes first, audiences second. Yet the opposite is true. We build because audiences exist. We build because we seek to reach out to others, and they will come initially because they recognize themselves in what we have bulit. After that initial interaction, spaces enter a process of self-identification, ownership, and evolution based on group interests and ideas. They are not static spaces for static viewers but ever-evolving, growing or decaying communities that build themselves, develop, and eventually dismantle…

I usually turn the question the other way around: Is it possible to not conceive of an audience for your work, to create an experience that is intended to be public without the slightest bias toward a particular kind of interlocutor, be it a rice farmer in Laos or a professor of philosophy at Columbia University? The debate may boil down to art practice itself and to the common statement by artists that they don’t have a viewer in mind while making their work – in other words, that they only produce for themselves. What is usually not questioned, however, is how one’s notion of one’s self is created. It is the construct of a vast collectivity of people who have influenced one’s thoughts and one’s values, and to speak to one’s self is more than a solipsistic exercise – it is, rather, a silent way of speaking to the portion of civilization that is summarized in our minds.”

– Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art


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