All forms of creativity require us to some degree, to engage with them as a process. Writing about bardic work tends to focus on the output of the committed creator, but the creative response of an audience is of great importance too. If we develop ourselves as co-creators, we support our own creativity and the work of others. Making something is of limited good if no one interacts with it.
Some media encourage us to be passive recipients, just sitting there soaking up whatever is thrown at us, not asked to think, feel, or imagine. As an audience, I have no time for this. It’s one of the reasons I do not own a television, as far too much content there seems aimed at a passive recipient. We mistake voting for engaging, all too easily. I do not enjoy the kinds of film that are all about turning off your brain and letting it wash over you, nor do I have much time for the kind of music written to act as audio wallpaper.
Yet at the same time, my experience of creative industries is that there’s a lot of pressure to create work that can just be absorbed passively by an audience that will have forgotten you even while it experiences you. I’ve heard the same kinds of stories from too many creatives: People don’t want to be challenged, they don’t want to have to think, this is too difficult, too demanding, they won’t like it.
Some of you do.
The creativity of the audience is something we could celebrate a lot more. When you are engaged with an innately less passive medium (radio, books, theatre) or with something that aims to make you engage, you have to bring yourself. Your life, experiences, emotions and ideas get into the gaps between the words, the spaces between panels, the empty back of the set where the castle ought to be… you fill it in. Your inspiration and imagination takes on the holes in the story, works out what happened before, and what happens after. If you’ve lain awake at night imagining alternative endings for Snape, or establishing the motivation for Lady Macbeth (what was that reference to killing babies about, anyway?) If you listened to Somebody that I used to know and pictured the people, the flat, the whole relationship implied by that song… you know what I’m talking about. It’s not a high art issue, it’s the willingness to consider the social implications of Calvin and Hobbes, and to otherwise step into what you encounter and do something with it.
No two people read a book in the same way. Toni Morrison once said something to the effect that the most important bit of a book, are the things you don’t say. Gaps matter. Holes, ambiguities and uncertainties are all invitations to the co-creator to come in and add their own bits. And so you give the lead man your father’s eyes, and that holiday home you had once becomes the location. You wonder what happened to Christopher Robin when he grew up, and you clapped your hands when Peter Pan asked you to.
Without the co-creator, the art is only half made.