Ideas make you Better…a catchphrase by Dr. Richard Niles
“Ideas make you better” is the catchphrase of my educational website and clinics, The Niles Creative Workshops. Everyone is creative. Just watch children at play and you’ll soon see potential actors, dancers, writers and singers. When those children are encouraged to develop their talents and learn artistic discipline they can become creative professionals. My teaching is designed to stimulate creativity in musicians.
Of course there is great potential for creativity in all professions—plumbers, scientists and accountants. When a plumber solves a mysterious leak, he is using his powers of deduction like Sherlock Holmes. When a scientist discovers a new way to build a mousetrap he is using something I often talk about: the power of asking “What if…” And we’ve all heard of cases where accountants become perhaps too creative—and their clients up in jail!
The career of creative professionals depends on their ability to generate plenty of ideas. The more ideas they have, the more successful artists they can be. Ideas make them better artists.
New, Interesting and Valuable
But what kind of ideas are we talking about? In order to be effective, ideas should suggest something new—a unique or unusual way of looking at some aspect of life. Old ideas are not necessarily bad ideas. But they have the disadvantage of having already been heard.
I often hear my students say, ‘How can I think up something new? Everything’s already been done!’ This, of course, is nonsense. As Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity—the more you use, the more you have.”
One of the wonders of life is that we have so much variety. Who cannot be amazed by a biological species that can produce voices as diverse as Tom Waits and Taylor Swift—or ideas as diverse as the Theory of Relativity and the Hula Hoop? Try listing all the different ways songwriters have written about love from the simplicity of Irving Berlin’s “Always” to the sophistication of Lorenz Hart’s “Glad to Be Unhappy” or the abusive obsession of Pink’s “Please Don’t Leave Me”. The universe is infinite, and so are the number of ideas it can generate through us.
Sometimes the new comes from subverting the old, or even trying it backwards. It can come from long dedicated research and exploration. It can come from a random system such as the ‘cut up’ technique of the Dadaists, later used by William Burroughs and David Bowie. Whether from a dream or by design, artists have been finding new concepts and new ways to express them since the first cave painting.
Ideas should also be interesting. The new is often interesting simply because it is new. But interest also comes from relevance. Some artists manage to express the spirit of their times as did Bob Dylan in the 1960s and Lady Gaga in 2011. The interest may be politically or socially thought provoking. Sheer entertainment can also be compelling—there’s nothing new about juggling but it’s fun to watch. The same could be said about sex – common to all of us since the dawn of mankind, but it still sells.
But I believe ideas must have a purpose beyond novelty and entertainment. Anyone who has ever felt that an artist had changed their life will understand how important it is that ideas have ‘artistic value’. This could be defined as illuminating the human condition and enriching our human experience. Ideas make us better. This type of idea helps us better able to make sense of this immeasurably baffling existence and helps us better able to appreciate the beauty and challenge of being alive. Ideas make us better human beings.
In this sense, it is simply not enough to be a powerful singer or a virtuosic instrumentalist. As admirable as that may be, it merely means that the musician has high quality tools. I’m much more interested in the table than the hammer that helped make it. An artist must have ‘something to say’ with their tools—a personal word-view expressed in their music or lyrics. And I would contend that the ideas artists express should be uplifting.
Money – is that what I want?
Artistic value becomes even more important in a culture where success is more and more measured in financial success. But the truth is that despite what the media screams at us, performer is not a valid artist just because they win a TV contest or sell 12 million CDs or stars in the latest blockbuster.
We live in a world where the amorality of bankers is openly rewarded and the media creates truth instead of reporting it. Sadly, many musicians today are training to achieve the money and fame, not to bring some new, artistically valuable insight to the public. At the time of writing, it would seem that entertainment and novelty are all an ‘artist’ needs to have a successful career. Money therefore takes precedence over usefulness or spiritual enlightenment.
Wanna-be artists are overly cautious about possible reactions to their ideas. They know some people will ‘get’ their concept and they’ll be Lady Gaga touring the world and receiving world-wide press for wearing a dress made out of carpaccio. If people don’t ‘get’ them, they might end up like Vincent Van Gogh starving in a garret searching for your right ear. They’d rather have the accolades and the meat. They want to fit in rather than stand out.
But it is very important for all of us to decide whether we intend to be artists who use money to enable us to create art or merchandizers who use art to enable us to make money.
Art or Reality?
I care passionately about the artistic value of my content. Art matters because it stands as an alternative to the heartlessness of society and the politics of greed. It offers a utopia where the ideal can be defined and attained. Without this, I believe we would all go mad. As Nietzche said, “We have art so that we shall not die of reality.”
In these times of economic austerity music programs have been removed from schools and funds for the arts have plummeted. Many educational institutions teach students to pass exams rather than understand the significance of history, language and science to their own lives. They are taught to memorize facts rather than use them as a vital resource for their own lives. This condemns us to a life of depressing, acquisitive pragmatism making us fear or distrust the miraculous. But as Roald Dahl said, “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
I create music for the same reason I teach: in order to create a world where people can not only dream but learn the practical ways to make their dreams effective in the real world. As Hamlet almost said, there’s a methodology to my ‘madness’. I not only stimulate ideas but I provide more ideas to empower them -“creativity unlimited”.
So my catchphrase is actually something of a crusade. As unfashionable as it may be, I believe there is a moral imperative on all of us to make the world a better place. This can be done by developing strong concepts to make ourselves more effective communicators of positive thoughts. I’m doing what I can with my ‘idea business’ because ideas make you better. And if you’re better, I’m better.