We’ve been exploring the creative process of the audience. I’ve offered Clark Terry’s advice to those learning to play jazz —“Imitate, assimilate, innovate” — as a framework for understanding the creative work we do as listeners, readers, viewers, and so forth.
Yesterday, I offered the idea that our attraction to idiosyncratic works of art testifies to the fact that those absorbing the art engage in some act of imitation (because the more idiosyncratic a work is, the more easily it can be imitated). Today, I offer snapshots of audience assimilation.
I met one friend of mine, Kelly, while she was carrying five copies of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity. She explained that she was buying up all the copies she could find before the movie version was released. “I want to get copies for all my friends before they print up new copies with John Cusack’s face on the cover. I hate when publishers do that.” She wanted her friends to have the freedom to imagine the story’s protagonist, Rob Fleming, on their own. I am not sure if the book was actually ever issued with a new cover featuring John Cusack’s face, but Kelly’s concern still holds. Readers feel a certain right to work with what they are given, and they are protective of that right.
It seems to me she identified an important aspect of audience creativity, our assimilation of the work. Our assimilation of the work requires a bit of freedom to embellish and augment what we have absorbed. In the case of High Fidelity, my friend had noticed how a movie version of a book can encroach upon one’s own mental version of the story, thus implicitly valuing the work of her own imagination.
We can find many parallels. When MTV emerged, music listeners started seeing videos images of the songs in their heads, and to some of them this also felt like an unwelcome encroachment. The sense was that the video got it wrong. The song didn’t look that way inside one’s head.
Most common of all might be when fans of a book encounter the movie version and feel that the film, even if it has accurately reproduced the plotlines, disagrees with too much of what they had imagined.
In all of these cases we are encountering the fact that an audience not only imitates the work but also expands upon it. Indeed, they feel protective of what their interpretive powers have produced.
Thank you for reading.