I keep on circling around thoughts about how not to be manipulative, how to respect your audience, and I end up not writing them down because, well – obviously, right? It seems obvious to say you should respect your audience, but in practice it’s often quite difficult – not because we’re inherently driven to be contemptuous of those who enjoy our work (though this is a problem for some creators), but because respecting an audience as an equal means striving beyond yourself, creating something beyond what you now know.
Now: I should clarify that I don’t mean that all creations made from the perspective of superior knowledge are contemptuous, or even without artistic merit. Sometimes we need to teach others skills and perspectives that they don’t have, and they come to us specifically because we are more learned or experienced in a particular topic. This is the foundation of all education. And, in the course of passing on this knowledge, it’s only natural to try to embrace the craft and aesthetic of art. Nevertheless, didacticism itself has little place within arts and entertainment, and art that sets out to be both fun and educational more often than not fails to be either; however, art that sets out to build entertainment on the basis of knowledge is often extraordinarily successful, whether it be the programming games of Zachtronics or the lurid history-inspired fantasy of George RR Martin.
In respecting your audience, you regard them as equal to yourselves; and, to provide someone who is equal to yourself with an experience that seems novel, you must exceed yourself, exceed the creativity that is familiar, and open yourself up to experiencing your art as your own audience, your first test audience of one. The tricky part about respect is that it’s not a coat of paint you can apply to a complete work, not a lacquer or a finish, but something that shapes from the ground up. If you want to respect the people who consume your work, you will have to respect yourself, to believe that you have hidden depths to be plumbed, because otherwise everything will be self-evident, obvious, cliche.
The art of creation is that of drawing out. We cannot, with pure intent, create the whole work; what comes feels trivial and contrived. We can create the first string, hooked into place, and then pull on that string gently and persistently until the tapestry emerges. This metaphor is useful, but is also limited because that makes it sound like what we then create isn’t really our creation, is actually some kind of divine inspiration. Really, our intent permeates, each aspect of the creation a decision made. We are neither quite an architect nor quite a prophet: We draw out, but we build; we plan, yet we intuit; we surprise, we are surprised; we are the artist, we are the audience. We must be both. It is craven for the artist to hold their self apart, to try to create something enumerable. We should be trying to create something that can never quite be described except as itself.
If we do our jobs right, we make the rock that’s too heavy for even us to lift.