Nick Cave on creating on the edge of disaster

I thought this was a powerful statement of faith in the creative process. It followed his description of improvisation earlier in Faith, Hope and Carnage in which he explains how the elements of his work choose their final form. But letting this choice unfold necessitates trusting in the creative process, believing it will come together in a coherent and valuable way:

Most of the time, I have no idea what I am doing while I’m doing it. It is almost purely intuitive. That should be pretty clear. But I do have a strong commitment to the primary impulse, the initial signalling of an idea – what we could call the divine spark. I trust in it. I believe in it. I run with it. The writing of this book, if that is what we are doing, is a case in point. It’s something that is just unfolding before us. I have no coherent idea of what we are doing at this time, and I’m not sure that you do, either. There is a sense of discovery about it. Things unfold. This place of discomfort and uncertainty and adventure is where an honest, good-faith conversation can happen. It’s all the same thing.

Cave, Nick; O’Hagan, Seán. Faith, Hope and Carnage (pp. 210-211). Canongate Books. Kindle Edition.

He later describes how this involves creating on the edge of disaster. It’s the possibility that things might go badly wrong which underwrites the existential rewards of creative work. It’s only through doing things which are genuinely new, moving beyond past routines and expanding existing repertoires, that we find ourselves in a place where ‘creative character’ becomes achievable. This certainly fits with my experience that I’ve tended to feel the most doubt about what I later see as my best work because this is where I have really pushed myself beyond my comfort zone:

It’s not so much the creative impulse itself that is so compelling, but rather doing something that feels challenging and vulnerable and new, whether that is ceramics or a different-sounding record or The Red Hand Files, the In Conversation events, Cave Things, this book, whatever. There is a risk involved that generates a feeling of creative terror, a vertiginous feeling that has the ability to make you feel more alive, as if you are hotwired into the job in hand, where you create, right there, on the edge of disaster. You become vulnerable because you allow yourself to be open to failure, to condemnation, to criticism, but that, as I think the Stoics said, is what gives you creative character. And that feeling of jeopardy can be very seductive.

Cave, Nick; O’Hagan, Seán. Faith, Hope and Carnage (pp. 245-246). Canongate Books. Kindle Edition.

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