In "A Hunger Artist," how does Kafka describe the changing relationship between the artist and the audience?
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Many consider this excellent short story to be a thinly-veiled allegory of how the artist never is fully appreciated for his art by his audience, who constantly misunderstand and treat his "art" as a novel show or entertainment. Certainly, throughout the story, both in his popular days and in his final days when he is forgotten, the hunger artist is shown to be isolated because he feels that only he truly appreciates and understands his art. He expresses dissatisfaction at only being able to fast for forty days because of the interest of the public, showing anger with his audience:
His public pretended to admire him so much, why should it have so little patience with him; if he could endure fasting longer, why shouldn't the public endure it?
However, the hunger artist is forced to accept the fact that his audience will never understand the purity of his art and what he is trying to achieve:
To fight against this lack of understanding, against a whole world of non-understanding, was impossible.
Therefore, I would argue that in reality there is not a changing relationship between the hunger artist and the audience. Although quite clearly his "art" falls out of public favour and becomes unpopular, the hunger artist is clear that he feels frustrated about the lack of comprehension and understanding concerning his "art" from his audience. He feels constrained by having to perform according to set guidelines to make a profit, and in some ways is relieved when he is consigned to a cage in the circus and can follow his art the way he wants to.
Kafka's work details a very peculiar and paradoxical relationship between the artist and the audience. On one hand, the artist believes in the intrinsic value of what he does. His fasts, the meticulous attention paid to them, and to make sure that there is rigor involved becomes critically important to him. The artist disparages his audience for not adhering to this level of attention and scrutiny in his work. This lack of appreciation might create a barrier between the artist and the audience. Yet, the paradox is that the artist needs his audience and is willing to do anything for them to hold their interest. When he is taken into the circus, he believes he can hold out and fast for longer than 40 days. The artist is depicted as one who asserts their own identity outside of the audience, but is also one linked to them for it is through their validation that there is total satisfaction. The artist understands the fickle nature of the public, but can do little about it. In this light, Kafka's artist reveals how difficult it is to be an artist equally committed to one's own creation and the public appreciation of it. At some point, unlike Kafka's artist, there has to be an understanding of where one needs to place primacy because one cannot have both ends.
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