People tend to want artists to do the same thing, and it is incumbent upon artists to do something that the audience doesn't want — yet. I'll tell you this. I won't follow an artist who will be led by his audience. Because I don't want to have to follow an artist that I have to lead.
The comments about Silicon Valley aside (I use and make a living off this technology, but I see more and more every day why many creative people are embittered about it, but that's another essay), it was this comment — courtesy of Marc McKenzie, hat tip — which caught my attention.
Right before watching The Hobbit 2: Dragon Age Boogaloo I sat down with friends for dinner, and I mentioned that after the 350,000 words of Flight of the Vajra I wasn't about to go back for a redux and dip into that particular well again. "Well, you say that now," they joshed, but I was adamant. Working on that book was two and a half years of my life that was wonderfully spent, but there's no point in me attempting to recapitulate any of it. Even if I wanted to do it — which, to be dead honest, I don't — I would still know I'd only be cheating myself out of the chance to do something new.
Every creator always winds up producing in his audience certain expectations about his work. If I pick up a Heinlein novel, I'm not expecting Tolstoy, or vice versa. But the fact that I just picked two artists who are no longer alive and producing is telling: it's easier to have expectations about dead creators than live ones. (Although it is still possible to be surprised by both kinds, depending on what you bring to the table.)
When someone says, "I make the things I want to make," such a statement is at its highest not simply a reflection of — to paraphrase how someone once caricatured existentialism — doing as you damn well please. I look at it now as being more akin to what Berdyaev was talking about, where he described how the manifestation of personality, of being something irrepaceable, of having a view that cannot be duplicated even by copying its outside (because its inner working remain a holy enigma). There is much mysticism in this point of view that I am not comfortable with, but there is a good deal of human fire that does resonate deeply with me.
There's a difference between doing as you must and doing as you damn well please, between simply letting your audience dictate your direction to you and thriving on their energy. Both differences have their roots in another difference I've witnessed: the one between the person who never stops scrutinizing himself and playing over his head, and the person who says, "This is what I am, you got a problem with that?" The latter thinks of his ego as some embattled fortress to be defended at all costs; the former understands all too well that the person he was five minutes ago is not the person he is now.
So, as long as you're alive and producing, I think you have at least as much responsibility to defy your audience's expectations as you to do live up to them. But do draw a line between that and simply being contrary.