It’s interesting to note that works of art with the widest appeal are in some way the strangest, the most unique.
On the list of the greatest rock, pop, and R&B offerings, we might find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Live at the Apollo, Highway 61 Revisited, “Mississippi Goddamn,” Are You Experienced, Clouds, “Baba O’Riley,” Innervisions, First Take, Tapestry, “Radio, Radio,” Horses, Remain in Light, “Running Up That Hill,” Nevermind, Exile in Guyville. All of these are marked by their distinctiveness.
A list of the great plays might include Hamlet; a list of great novels might include Mrs. Dalloway and Song of Solomon; a list of great films might include The 400 Blows and The Godfather. In the case of these and other entries on lists of widely loved works, we would not be surprised to see works that featured distinctive characters, settings, image systems, and so forth.
“The most widely loved works are idiosyncratic”—on the surface, it’s a conundrum. Yet the explanation might lie in idea that our first task as the audience is to recreate the imagery inside of us, to somehow imitate the art. The more specific the object we attempt to imitate, the greater success we will have. Think of how we have the easiest time doing an impression of the odd characters in our lives, even when those we are imitating feel different from us. The people whose traits stand out the least are the most difficult to imitate.
Likewise with art, the more original the creation, the more distinctly it will strike the imagination of the audience and the more easily it might be imitated within them as they absorb the work. Another way of thinking about this: there is a reason that the most loved albums are also the most imitated by other artists, and it might have to do with something beyond the desire for replicating the success of the original. Artists who hear distinctive work have an easier time imitating it. So it is with the audience.
Thank you for reading.