Source: An Interview With David Foster Wallace, by Larry McCaffery

[David Foster Wallace's answer to Question #2] ...But now realize that tv and popular film and most kinds of “low” art—which just means art whose primary aim is to make money—is lucrative precisely because it recognizes that audiences prefer 100 percent pleasure to the reality that tends to be 49 percent pleasure and 51 percent pain. Whereas “serious” art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort. So it’s hard for an art audience, especially a young one that’s been raised to expect art to be 100 percent pleasurable and to make that pleasure effortless, to read and appreciate serious fiction. That’s not good. The problem isn’t that today’s readership is “dumb,” I don’t think. Just that tv and the commercial-art culture’s trained it to be sort of lazy and childish in its expectations. But it makes trying to engage today’s readers both imaginatively and intellectually unprecedentedly hard.

1. How do you determine the right meaning ? Why not 'artistic audience'? My guesses:

2. Any audience, possibly lay or amateur with respect to art, who still cares about art.

3. An audience learned in art, who still cares about art.

4. An audience, about which we know nothing, for which the art was intended.

Obiter dictum: I lighted upon this article through reading this.


An art audience in this context is the total audience for works of art, both people who are practised in engaging "serious", difficult works and people who are experienced only with the sort of works which can be read without effort. It is an audience because the author is speaking specifically of the general contemporary audience, as distinguished from other audiences: the different audiences of previous generations and the different audiences addressed by "serious" and "commercial" artists.

We don't say "artistic audience" because that would mean an audience which was itself artistic, an audience composed of "artistic people".


As far as I can tell, the writer is using the expression "art audience" in the same way you would use "cinema audience". By that I mean that he or she is simply referring to "people who are observing art".


In this case, art audience most likely refers to your first guess (an audience who cares about art), though the other two senses can also be accurate in other contexts.

Artistic as you know has several meanings which might be applicable here [OALD]:

  1. connected with art or artists
  2. showing a natural skill in or enjoyment of art, especially being able to paint or draw well
  3. done with skill and imagination; attractive or beautiful

Therefore, an artistic audience might be one interested in art, but could also be one possessing artistic skills. Since the attributive art is not used in the latter sense, it is less ambiguous to use it to refer to an audience which is interested in, educated in, or focused on art, but whose members are not necessarily creatively inclined themselves.

It is often the case that one meaning of an adjective or attributive noun dominates, leading one to use alternatives for clarity. I would have more fun at a State of the Union party (it's a thing; yeah, we're nerds around here) with my politics friends— the friends who work in politics, and possess enough cynicism professional distance to discuss the speech academically— than with my political friends, those blessed with not only a surfeit of ill-tested opinions but also a certain overeagerness to share them.

Often, an adjective describes a quality or attribute of something, whereas the attributive would indicate a relationship to something else. So either of these hats could be called a winter hat:

Winter and wintry hats

The one on the left is a warm cap one might wear in winter, and the one on the right is decorated with a reindeer and snowflake motif that is evocative of an ugly Christmas sweater. But both can be associated with winter, even though the one on the left is decorated with the logo of the Los Angeles Dodgers (and neither Los Angeles nor baseball have much of anything to do with winter) and the one on the right would be useless for insulation or protection against anything more than a first date.

But I doubt anyone would call either one a wintry hat, even though wintry is the adjective for something characteristic of winter. They aren't icy or dim, and don't generate chilly drafts.

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