I was playing in a rock and roll band for a couple of years recently--from
2005 to 2007.
The guitarist and I did not quite see eye to eye on the purpose of performing. His desire was that even the public performance be all about the music and about creating the music he wanted, the way he wanted. My interest in playing in public is to connect with audience.
I don't think that either of these positions is right or wrong. I think, actually, that we are trying to balance these two. As writers (or as any sort of artist, I think): we have the paired goals of self-expression and sharing.
One thing I'm wondering about: where do the carrots come in?
Is successful connection with an audience a carrot?
I can see answering both ways, but right now I don't think so.
If we are filled with a sense of purpose--a message that we have to get out--whether that is my guitarist's musical vision, or some verbal message--then we are trying to connect with an audience because of what we have inside us--the vision that we are trying to manifest. Our measure of success is how well we have connected with the audience, and yet we are not doing what we are doing for the approval of the audience.
Some rock and roll was really about nothing more than the passion inside and the message expressed. From protest singers to punks to rap, great music arises from a sense of passion and sense of purpose. And audiences connect with that sense of purpose because it seems real.
Academics, of course, don't get to say "we don't give a f--k what anyone else thinks," because they have to please other academics--especially professors. And the outrage that drives punk music isn't so easily passed off in academic circles. But that doesn't mean that it can't be used to direct a project.
One thing about passion is that it can be overwhelming. But if we can ride the edge where we can see both the passion that drives us, and the compromises we make to communicate that passion in the appropriate context, then we can create something special. It's a difficult balance point to find. Emotional content is volatile and dynamic, making finding balance very difficult. Working with strong emotional content means slipping, perhaps, into a sense of being overwhelmed when the emotions run strong, or slipping into a sense of disillusionment at moments the emotions run weak.
Despite this difficulty, I personally wouldn't recommend anything but to seek this place where a sense of purpose and passion drive you. I know that lots of people make their living writing things they don't care about. I know that writing about things that you don't care about strongly is a safe place to write: the material doesn't shift under your grasp in the same way.
I believe that there are times to seek expediency instead of the noblest aims, and I believe that we shouldn't let a dissertation be delayed by an attempt to make it do too much. But I also believe that we should still work with things that we care about.