I’ve suggested that audiences take what they are given and do their own creative work, which follows the process outlined in Clark Terry’s formulation for learning jazz improvisation: “Imitate, assimilate, innovate.” In the case of an audience member, someone absorbing a work of art, her innovation lies in her attaining a new understanding of something that lies outside the artwork.
The process might be quite similar to what happens when sitting on a beach and listening to the waves. It inevitably produces some insight beyond what is happening in front of us. The rhythm of the waves starts a process that might lead the person on the shore to realize what’s going on with a particular aspect of her life. That insight is her innovation, the product of her creative imagination.
Likewise, when she listens to music or reads a book, she reaches insights about herself or life that are not part of what she heard or read. The music or writing she encounters launches her on a process of discovery that soon becomes her own. Her access to that discovery may rely on the particular workings of the music or writing, but the discoveries are hers. Indeed, her discoveries may be quite different from someone else’s.
The nature of the discoveries may remain too abstract to put into words, but her attainment of them feels palpable. She listens to the Jupiter Symphony or “Midnight Train to Georgia” and discovers something by way of taking in the various images and then imitating and assimilating them with herself and her experience.
Thus, when we peruse favorite albums looking to find what it is we want to hear, we are not only asking ourselves a question about what music we want to keep us company, we are asking ourselves about which place within ourselves we might want to access through the innovative creative work we do as listeners.
Perhaps audience members know less of their own creative powers than artists do, for artists study audience responses to their work. They inevitably find that just as the rhythm of the waves inspires all kinds of thoughts about life beyond the shoreline, some of the most successful art simply gives the audience a point of departure for a journey of its own devising.
Thank you for reading.