As I reflect on the many creative professionals I have known, I notice a range of stances on a key issue: how to steer one’s creative ship relative to the audience.
One one end of the spectrum, you have a group I’ll call the auteurs. They take their cues from their own hearts — they produce what seems important to them, and hope there’s an audience for it. This is an attitude close to the old adage “Write what you know”; it views the creative process as essentially personal, not to be guided by outside considerations.
On the other, what I’ll call the impresarios: they study their audience, and develop projects based on what they think the audience will find useful (which isn’t always the same thing as what the audience wants). This is an attitude close to the saying “Only a fool ever wrote but for money”; success is measured by audience reception, and using a different yardstick is tantamount to intellectual masturbation.
The interesting thing is that people on either side of the midpoint tend to make concessions to the other side in their execution, if not in concept; impresarios take pride in putting their personal spin on whatever the market demands, and auteurs are often very concerned with how to position their work in the marketplace.
Me, I’m a mild auteur; I try to work on things that I think people will like, but I get no kick from contemplating the zeitgeist of consumer buying habits.