Why Charlie Kaufman Might Hate You

Charlie Kaufman, to the uninitiated, is the brilliant pen behind a bunch of really weird films about the convoluted mind of Charlie Kaufman. The better known-and-critically-received of these are Being John Malkovitch, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Adaptation.

I have seen and enjoyed these three movies, so last night I followed a link to a talk Kaufman gave at BAFTA, in which he rambled to a gaggle of screenwriters, creatively and sometimes less-than-coherently, about all sorts of writing-related things. One thing that stuck out to me was his mention of the tendency among artists to grow to hate their audience. It sounds awful, I know, but it's something I've long-noticed among artists of all kinds and (confession time) it's actually a temptation towards which I, myself, sometimes feel a bit of a pull.


I can't quite figure it out, but here's the best I've got so far...

Why Artists Hate Their Audience: A Theory

A. Art is often an outgrowth of the self's desire to be loved. An artist's motivation for making things is often, at some primal level, an attempt to say to other people: please, please love me. 
B. If the artist is honest, works hard, and tells the truth, art patrons will often recognize themselves in the art. They'll respond emotionally, and some of the love they feel for the artist's product will inevitably spill over to the artist.
C. This love is, however, conditional. It requires the artist to make new and interesting things, and quickly becomes bored and withdraws love when the artist does not. 
D. The artist feels betrayed by what he or she perceives as misdirected and conditional love, and begins to resent the audience for not loving unconditionally enough. 
E. Although the artist might even be aware of the irrationality of this resentment, the resentment can nonetheless shrivel into bitterness, which eventually shrivels into hatred. 

That seems as likely an explanation as any for the tripped-out stuff that goes on in my mind.

As creatively helpful as it can be to wallow down in the mire of my wounded psyche, however, at the end of the day I have to remind myself that I do believe in love and grace, and that to make is to have hope - to live. I'm grateful for that, and for the joys of well-made art... no matter what Charlie Kaufman might think of me for it.


  1. Movies are expensive to make. Money rules. Artistic integrity is secondary. Self publish or go get a real job.

  2. Most people outside the industry don't know who Kauffman is. They never loved him - they never knew he existed.

  3. I agree with parts of both theories. But it's also possible that there's an inherent yin-yang of strife & affection in art. The artist regularly battles the medium, its history, the market (unfortunately) & his or her own limitations in a struggle to express something which (in their mind) has eluded expression. But the artist engages in this struggle because of a passion for the medium and an ardent drive to make their contribution to the culture. This interlocked relationship of appreciation & strife can carry over to the artist/audience dynamic. While there's the hope that one's work will be appreciated, hearing "I love your stuff" or "I totally got what you were saying" can become frustrating for the artist -- and even more frustrating when the statements become "I hated it" or "It didn't work". Sometimes the frustration stems from believing that the audience has little to no concept of the process behind the product. But oftentimes it stems from believing that the audience has misjudged the purpose of or the drive that created it. It's there for the audience & yet not for the audience. The work isn't there to be "loved" or "got" -- both of which may, in fact, be impossible. It's there because the artist felt it had to be.

  4. Interesting thoughts, Jeremy. I could probably take a week meditating on/studying the question and still not be too much closer to an answer. I won't, though, because I'd much rather spend that time creating than analyzing.

  5. The dynamic between artist and audience is interesting. It's hard to boil down to one factor or another, but I like Jeremy's ideas as well as yours Josh. Why would an artist hate their audience? I mean you get a pretty good look at Kaufman's thoughts in the movie ADAPTATION.

    The interaction between the two brothers, the artist and the hack, give you all the clues you need. One, great suffering produces great art, and the reverse. Two, social isolation (part of the great suffering and a necessary sacrifice) of the artist breeds an inability to deal with people and a disdain (envy) for those who are at ease in social situations (or have a life). Three, a deep frustration with an industry dominated by the whims of fickle audiences. In other words, great art should be produced and appreciated for its own sake, not packaged like a McDogshit Happy Meal. There are more in there.

    That movie, my favorite of his films, is all about art.

  6. David Simon sort of touches on this when discussing The Wire. His audiences were the various subcultures within Baltimore that the show was about. As long as they bought the show as authentic, he was happy. The last thing on his mind was including expository dialogue to explain to suburban America what was going on. It forced us to pay attention from episode 1-60. And for those who couldn't get thru ep1, to hell with them.

  7. He got away with it by telling the truth, I guess. Because, in the words of one of those Muppets of yore, "peoples is peoples."


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