Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Don't tiger ideas

'I say to my students all the time, "you're taking yourself way too seriously. You're thinking only about beautifully sculpted, perfect ideas. Why not look at the dorkiness inside, the clumsiness, and realise that that may be where your real genius lies?" In awkwardness you can find tremendous grace.'

Richard Danielpour 
From 'The Muse that Sings' by Ann McCutchan)

Picture a new born foal. What do you see? What most of us see is the foal's charming awkwardness as it tries to stand. We are also immediately aware of its potential: of how it is going to grow into a strong and graceful horse.

When a tiger sees a foal it sees something clumsy, weak and unable to defend itself: something to be devoured and the remains, if any, discarded.

When I was studying composition, I showed some of my rough sketches to a group of fellow students. They were all over them straight away: tearing into the clumsiness of my infant ideas and devouring my confidence in my creative abilities. 

It was with a great amount of trepidation, and not a small amount of visceral fear, that I showed the same sketches to my composition teacher. He looked through them for a while, nodded to himself, and then (with what seemed to me to be genuine interest) began to ask questions:

'Why this chord? Why that combination of instruments? Why this particular turn of phrase? What was my thinking? What was I trying to express and achieve? How could I make my thinking and intentions clearer? How could I more clearly achieve my goal?'

Together, we stayed with the awkwardness of my initial ideas and gradually (through discussion and exploration) we began to tease the quality out of the clumsiness.

The next time you come across a new idea that is taking its first stumbling steps treat it like a new born foal; enjoy and explore its awkwardness and ask the following questions:

'Why is this part so crucial? Why is it put together like that? Why is it described in that particular way? What is the thinking behind it? What is it seeking to achieve? What is its potential? How could we help it realise its potential and achieve its goal?' 

Above all, do not tiger it; do not tear into its clumsiness; do not devour it and discard its hollowed out remains before it finds its legs.

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