6 Things Nick Cave Said That Made Me Pay Attention

Artist Nick Cave rocks my world!

I went to hear Cave speak last week at the Denver Art Museum and am fired up for his show here next summer. Make plans to visit Denver in the summer of 2013! I’ll put together an Art Biz Blog meetup for anyone who makes the trip.

I took two pages of notes during the dialogue. Watch this video about Cave and his Soundsuits and then read what got me so excited about him.

1. Live Your Art

Cave’s studio discipline is phenomenal. His studio manager testified that he works from 8 a.m. to midnight every day.

But Cave doesn’t think of it as work.

To him, there is no distinction between art and life. He said, “I can’t turn it off.”

Are you living your art?

2. Activate Your Art

This is related to the above.

Cave’s Soundsuits are activated when worn in performance, but that can’t always occur. So he tries to think of how they can exude energy when exhibited. He said he asks the question of his exhibits: “How do you keep the space active after the opening?”

I was intrigued by this idea further when I learned of his online SoundSuitShop.

What happens after your opening reception? Does the exhibit slowly fade? Or do you find ways to maintain the interest level?

3. Collaborate

Cave didn’t stand up at a podium and speak. Instead, he sat down in conversations with Sonnet Hanson, master teacher for modern & contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum, his studio manager, Cheryl Pope, and his publications designer, Bob Faust.

I’ve never before heard of an art rock star traveling with his designer. I’m going to have more to say about this in the future because the implications are astounding.

Cave also seeks a high degree of collaboration with community. He said his work brings people together who hadn’t been together before. He “highlights their potential.”  He seeks to bring out the best in them and what they can do together.

Incidentally, I value collaboration so highly that I’m introducing it as our focus in the Artist Conspiracy this July.

How do you collaborate?

4. Evolve

Cave said he has to grow with every project. Otherwise, he’s not interested.

What would it be like if every project you took on was a step forward? Even if it included a step back?

5. Prepare

Cave’s team spends approximately 70-80% of their time preparing material for his Soundsuits before putting them together!

This commitment to material is admirable and, at the same time, enviable.

Where in your art or business could you use more preparation?

6. Set The Bar High

Numerous times throughout the talk, Cave revealed how high his expectations are – of himself and of those around him.

Cave wants everyone around him to excel and to be the best at what they do. In turn, he wants to help bring out their gifts.

Are your expectations high enough?

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31 comments to 6 Things Nick Cave Said That Made Me Pay Attention

  • Great way to start the week- inspired!

  • Mary Tevington

    This is better than a jolt of java. Thank you, thank you for sharing. I’m energized!

  • Sherry Claire

    WOW! I am so late for work, and I’m coming in snapping my fingers! THANKS.

  • His talk was definitely one of the best we’ve seen. Great summary! Now I don’t have to sift through my notes. Thank you! :)

    The point that really struck home for me was #2 above. Something for me to investigate – how to keep people coming back to the exhibit…

    • I’m SO glad we were there! I just couldn’t stop taking notes. And I noticed, Lisa, that you and I were taking notes in sync. So I think we responded to similar points.

  • Thank you so much for posting your notes and ideas!! I would have loved to hear him speak. We had a fabulous show of his work and also of Joyce Scott’s, here in New Orleans, at Tulane University’s Woldenberg Art Center several months ago. My husband and I went to see it twice!

    #2 that Lisa mentioned also stuck with me as I am having a solo show in September at a university gallery here. My work is material based and my aesthetic has been influenced by Nick Cave so I am going to brainstorm how to keep interest in the show beyond the opening.

    BTW Lisa’s recent show in Philadelphia was lovely, the color and texture of the work really popped in the gallery.

  • I caught my first glimpse of Nick Cave’s work and found it amazing. Thanks so much Alyson for making us more aware of his incredible way of making and living with art… it’s so inspiring!

  • Oh, I meant to say I caught my first glimpse of his work last year! :)

  • I read this yesterday, and was noticing my general irritation with the mention of his 16 hour a day studio practice. I fully value discipline, and hard work, but also want balance. And believe that when I’m outside of the studio, it does in many ways infuse what happens when I return.

    I just feel that there are too many artists who have to give their entire lives to their careers in order to really make it happen. I’m not one who can function well without ample amounts of sleep, without time with friends, and time to cook, and time to take leisurely walks.

    I feel compelled to say something that counters these notions, and remain hopeful that the world can better carve out a space for artists to do their thing and be healthy and functioning.

    • Lee

      I agree with Jessica – my first thoughts were ‘that’s not discipline, that’s obsession’ and ‘if that’s the ‘normal’ schedule, what are the chances this person has healthy relationships?’
      I think the idea that artists need to let their art consume their entire lives is dangerous and contriubutes to the myth of the artist as maladjusted outsider.

    • Jessica: Everyone has his or her own way of working. I don’t think you should be irritated by someone who chooses to work differently – just as you wouldn’t want them to be irritated by your choices.

      But like I said, he doesn’t think of it as work at all. Perhaps I should have phrased my point differently.

  • Sometimes the truth about art is that it’s a major job. Most people who paint, or sculpt or create installations would like to become known. That doesn’t usually happen when we take it easy. On the other hand I agree. Family, animals, friends, sleep, coffee, reading all need time. I like the idea of balance. I think it takes a lifetime to achieve it. And it doesn’t really matter how long anyone else spends in the studio, it matters that we all do our own work at the pace that is right and healthy for us. The things you’ve taught me Alyson, about writing a list and sticking to it, and all of the other pieces of sage advice
    are a major boon, even when I can’t follow them. Now I’m going to go into the studio.
    I have ADD I think, so it’s 10 or 15 minutes at a time, but in a day, sure some days it’s 16 hours total. Maybe today.
    XO Barbara

    • Nick Cave made it a point to say “But we have fun.” I have no doubt. You can tell by his work that he enjoys it.

      He also said, which isn’t part of this, that he gets up at 5 a.m. and runs or goes to the gym for an hour. He said if he is in bed for more than 5 hours that he doesn’t know what to do with himself – he can’t sleep any longer than that.

    • I think your comments are a wonderfully respectful way to look at it. We all have to do the time, but we each need to create in our own timeframe. I personally think it is all about doing what you want to do and finding your own personal balance and space within that context.

  • I love his work, and I think he must work on a high of creativity. Plus he doesn’t work alone, other people probably help him create his soundsuits, and he has to have people to perform in them. All of that creates an atmosphere that would be contagious with excitement and may explain his sleeping patterns. He also may be one of those blessed humans like Martha Stewart who can operate successfully on very little sleep.

    I promise to quit commenting soon, but this whole idea of reacting to another person’s routine intrigues me. Art demands two things most of the time — solitude, and a whole lot going on. Most artists create in solitude, but excitement, sales, great ideas all come from interaction it seems. Looks like Nick Cave has got it all happening.

    Bravo I say.

  • This is very timely. I just spent the last two weeks helping to install the Nick Cave show at the Boise Art Museum (I’m an intermittent curatorial assistant). I was fortunate to be able to see the sound suits up close and handle them. Some of them are very heavy and I wonder what it would be like to actually wear them. Some of our local dancers get to perform in the “performance” suits.

    Working with fabric and sewing myself, I was very interested in looking at the details on the suits. The work on them is really amazing and well done. Unfortunately, Nick himself will not be coming to Boise. So it is great to get a summary from you about his discussion. Thanks.

  • “How do you keep the space active after the opening?”
    Important question! I gave all visitors a ticket for an auction on the last night to bring people back. I also arranged to meet people to talk to them about the work during the weeks of the show. I would have liked to do live demos but it was freeeeeezing in the space so I had to skip that tho’ I was sometimes to be found sketching.
    With group shows, we’ve done workshops (adults & kids) and meet the artists nights…One thing I like the idea of and haven’t done yet is to get visitors to collaborate on a piece of art during the show. I’d also like to create an interactive exhibition with sounds and smells and things to walk through…

  • Thanks so much Alyson!
    NIck seems so thoughtful and caring about the world of others, even as he pushes himself and his crew to new heights. There is no negative there, it is just his form of energy and creative juices. Not everyone has or ever will have that jack in the box pop, so it is imperitive to know your own self. He is young, entusiastic, and probably encounters problems with a “lets see what we can do about that” direction. HIs proteges are very lucky!
    I have a daughter in law like that. She has a drive and honest work ethic that makes anyone tired, but she changes people’s lives. ( Mostly dancing children.) She drives from Victor most days and drives home again up that winding mountain in snow, rain, and heat. Then tends to her 3 greenhouses and chickens. She is a good momma and wife to my son in a wheelchair as well.

  • Just WOW! That was a treat for the eyes, ears and brain. The bar has been set a little higher. I need to teach my paintings to dance.

  • Being a theatre person, I can imagine what goes on in his world. I am inspired to live my art gracefully.

  • Thanks Alyson. I appreciate how you distilled the conversation so clearly into some sharable take aways. I am also inspired by the energy your post incites right here.

  • After taking your first class and reading your book, I have been “living my Art” and it pays off every day! I always carry a purse I’ve painted or wear a piece of jewelry I’ve made. Even if that’s impossible, I’ll wear items so people will ask me questions and I can talk about being an Artist. Going to work on COLLABORATION with other Artists and the community!!! Huge step forward…

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