What I learned about creativity from Nick Cave this week


There aren’t many of us left, but I am one of the few remaining people who still watches television programmes roughly when they go out.  We’ve got one of those fantastic digital things that will record a whole series for you and let you watch something you ‘taped’ while ‘taping’ something else, and I love the BBC iPlayer, particularly on the iPad, but there is something very satisfying about looking forward to a programme and sitting down and watching it with the Medieval Historian and our two dogs and cup of tea (or glass of wine).  I am also a connoisseur of various oddities which move alarmingly round the schedules.  All of which means that we take the Radio Times.

Last week’s number had an interview with Florence Welch, whose music I really want to like, but do find a bit heavy-going.  The interview was okay, but there was a passage towards the end in which the interviewer, Ginny Dougary, clearly unafraid of namedropping wrote:

We talk about the process of songwriting.  I mention something Nick Cave said to me about his love songs waiting patiently for him to finish them.

This really jumped out at me.  It is a variation on my feeling when my work is going really well that I am just the hands who turn up to make something tangible out of what is already hanging there in the air, making real what already has life in some other modality.  It is a very strange sensation.  When it’s finished I sometimes look and think, ‘I made that’, and it seems to have no connection to me at all.  Another metaphor would be that of a midwife rather than a mother because of the detachment that implies.  The maker is involved with the delivery of the object but has no visceral connection to it.

But I love Cave’s quotation, because of the quality of relationship with what he makes that it implies.  The love songs wait patiently.  I love the idea of politeness here.  It’s not something that you often get in writing about creativity particularly the burst of testosterone which the three minute pop song seems so often to imply.  The love songs show great self restraint.  But there is also an undercurrent of impatience.  ‘Look, we’re here and ready to go and you are faffing about going to the supermarket, or doing the washing up, or sleeping.  Come on we have a life to get on with.’  There are also very pushy creations that make you get up at three in the morning to facilitate their entry into the world (as with my turf, surf and sky samples, that I blogged about last week).  That sort of creativity is feverish and can be exhausting.  But there is also this form, quiet, certain, inevitable and calm.  The inevitability is present in Cave’s statement.  The songs are there.  They just need him to get his act together to bring them into this world from wherever they current are.

Finally, I love the animism in this quotation.  The songs have a life.  They are alive.  They are things which have agency.  They cause things to happen in the world around them.  They are not inanimate.  I think this about some of my work.  It certainly communicates with people. and I once had a very strange experience where I could read the emotion behind every piece of textile work given to me to hold by its maker – a very unheimlich or uncanny experience.  I don’t know much about Actor Network Theory but I have always been interested in that notion that things and not just human beings  can have agency in systems.   There is a book about art in which Mitchell argues that pictures have a life of their own.  In an interesting passage he writes that we all know that pictures aren’t alive, but we continue to act as though they were.  If you don’t believe me, he says, try taking a photograph of your mother and cutting the eyes out.  Even as a thought experiment this is difficult to say the least.

So, even though Florence and the Machine is a bit lost on me, reading about her certainly stimulated some thought.  Oh, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s ‘Into my arms‘, might just be the most perfect and patient love song ever written:

I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know darling that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms O Lord
Into my arms O Lord
Into my arms O Lord
Into my arms
And I don’t believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that’s true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
And I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candle burning
And make her journey bright and pure
That she will keep returning
Always and evermore
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms


Dougary, G. (2012) ‘Go with the Flo’, Radio Times, 23-29 June, 10-12, quotation on page 12.

Mitchell, W.J.T. (2005) What do pictures want?  The lives and loves of images.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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