Last year I picked up a copy of Nick Cave: Sinner Saint: The True Confessions, Thirty Years of Essential Interviews. Partially this is ‘cause I’m a fan of Cave’s work, from the freewheeling chaos of the Birthday Party through to his more recent albums with both The Bad Seeds and Grinderman. Partially it was ’cause I was replacing my copy of The Bad Seed biography, and the book of interviews could be picked up cheap as a two-for-one deal.
Of the two, Nick Cave: Sinner Saint has been the more thought provoking book. It’s interesting to compare the way the creative process is presented in the earlier interviews compared to the process of Nick Cave today. One upon a time he was the very epitome of an artist bent on self-destruction, antagonistic and drug-fueled and generally hostile to press and fans alike.
The Nick Cave of today has matured into an comparatively sober elder statesmen, content to disappear into an office and work on his art day in, day out. There are still hints of the tortured soul there – part of the reason he chooses the office is so his family doesn’t see the less pleasant elements of the creative process – but there is a sense that Cave has moved away from art as self-destruction and towards art as a job. it’s but one facet of his life.You can literally see his approach to his work evolving from interview to interview. Rather than let his art consume him,
It got me thinking about the nature of art and writing and music, and the way we are so often told our choices are Art Or…
You can be an artist…or you can have a family.
You can be a poor, broke writer…or you can get a real job.
You can be a musician, or…you can have money.
You can be a painter, or…
You can be a poet, or…
If you’re an aspiring artist of any kind – or hell, even an established one, you can probably fill in the blanks. The moment you first uttered your ambition towards any kind of creative career, the world turned around and started framing things in terms of what you’ll need to sacrifice.
ART IS THE STUFF OF MYTHS AND LEGENDS
There’s a reason the self-destructive Nick Cave of the Birthday Party era appeals to us, just as a litany of self-destructive rock-stars have had a particular allure. We’re told, culturally, that our art is supposed to destroy us.
Writing and art are a highly mythologised gig. Even if we don’t believe in the Muses as literal entities like the ancient Greeks did, the legacy of those beliefs have permeated our culture. There is the notion that creativity exists outside the artist, inspiration just waiting to be tapped, and there is some kind exalted state that overcomes us when we write or paint or play music.
Maybe we don’t use the word Muse anymore. Words like creativity or talent or genius can serve the same function, without having the sting of the divine associated with them. But the implication is still there: we have touched greatness, and we have to pay the price.
Dylan Thomas and Ernest Hemmingway give us the myth of the writer as drunk, using alcohol to salve the pain that comes with being the vessel of such creativity energy. Cave used speed and heroin to the same effect, as a musician. There are any number of literary suicides – Plath and Virginia Woolf come to mind – and even great genre writers like Stephen King and Philip K. Dick have a history of substance abuse. I won’t eve start on the links that are forged between art and depression.
It’s okay to be great, so long as you pay the toll. You have to sacrifice something to the muse.
The legacy of this thinking is everywhere. It’s there in the people who say, yeah, it must be great to be creative, as though creativity is some exalted state that belongs to artists and no-one else. It’s there in the way people try to correct your career path early on – oh, you want to be a writer? Maybe you should do a journalism degree – and in the way people talk wistfully about writing their book when they’re retired and “have the time.”
You can be a creative, or…
We hear this so often that it’s seductive and easy to buy in. It’s there in the highly viral Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk about the elusive nature of genius that writers sent to one-another a few years ago. It’s there in the rhetoric any number of creatives will fall into, without even thinking about it. Hell, I’ve done it. For years I believed I could be a writer I could have a real job (it’s one of the reasons I spent the first ten years of my career working as a sessions academic and studying for a PhD). The thought of going to an office, day after day, was a complete anathema to me.
I could be a writer…or I could build a career. I couldn’t do both.
Yeah, I know. I’m a fucking idiot.
Let me make my feelings on this matter, this whole conflation off art and muse, and art, or, thinking, very clear.
FUCK. THAT. SHIT.
It’s time to embrace a far healthier form of thinking.
For all that I love The Birthday Party fiercely – and honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve been in a goth club when Release the Bats comes on – I find myself a lot more interested in the calmer, older Nick Cave who is interested in being a musician and a father/husband/etc. It’s time to discard the myth of “art or” and embrace the fact that artists, writers, and musicians are multifaceted human beings.
It isn’t easy. Cave found it, and he still finds himself coming up against the myth of who he used to be, the Nick Cave of art, or thinking, in interviews:
The thing that I value most about my life in regard to my work is that I’m able to just get on with it in the way that I want to. I find it slightly irritating that I have to justify the fact that I have a family or work office hours as if it’s bizarre or eccentric.”
Nick Cave in Nick Cave: Sinner, Saint, pg 160
But the thing to keep in mind is this: all those people I mentioned earlier, the ones who embodied this myth that we cart around culturally, they always were art, and people. It’s just the things that came after the and were words like booze or drugs or mental illness (and even then, lets be honest, this is not the totality of who they are).
We do ourselves a disservice when we perpetuate art, or thinking. The muses were a myth. Genius isn’t required to be an artist of any stripe. Art doesn’t require a great sacrifice in order to be worthwhile. Whenever you find yourself thinking in terms of either/or binaries, I think it’s time we tackle-them head on and promote the awesomeness of being an “artist and..”.
Lets start embracing the fact that there is space in the world for artists to be more than one thing.
So lets embrace that. I’m a writer and…a blogger, a gamer, an arts-worker, a home-owner, an older brother, an unfinished academic, and many more things beside. I can honestly say that my life has never quite been as good as it is today, even if I started my career purposefully excluding many of the options that now make y life meaningful.Some of those things give me as much, if not more, satisfaction as writing.
So how about you? What sits on the far side of your “art,&” ampersand that you should be embracing with a little more glee than you have? What multiplicities should the world be aware of, lest they make the mistake of thinking that art is the sole purpose you have in life?