Nick Cave: Reaching Revelations


Article by Sarah Bartram

Excitement was brewing as Nick Cave was interviewed at Kent State University in the intimate Cartwright Hall. During a sit-down Q&A, Nick Cave answered questions ranging from his experience as a teacher, the ups and downs of the contemporary art world, and the people who have influenced his career. His answers were honest, sincere, and most of all very motivating.

As someone who is new to teaching college kids, I found his personal anecdotes to be very inspiring. He was asked how to go about pushing his students to push boundaries in their work and what should teachers be doing? He answered, “Faculty need to come together and talk about new ways of learning, collaborating in order to give students flexibility.” He went on to stress the importance of guiding students down pathways of their interests and to be able to find the means necessary to support the idea. “It is important for a student not to be blocked in. Just because you are in ceramics, an idea might work better in wood or fabric.”


An audience member asked Cave what his advice would be for an aspiring artist in art school? Cave replied, “I want them to understand that outside of your protective school, it’s very different. It’s important to teach them how to trust yourself, making decisions around your work. After school, you don’t get feedback anymore, critiques.” I was so glad to hear this, because it is true and students need to realize how advantageous peer and faculty critiques can be.

He said he is always thinking about his students and what they are doing in the studio, what new things he will see when he comes into the studio after traveling. Speaking of his students, he said “they reach revelations or they crash but they know I’ve got their back.” Cave made us all very aware of how much he tried to help his students grow, and how much he enjoyed his role as teacher.

NickCaveFurrysuitHe was asked, what an artist needs to thrive? His response, “You need to be smart, be able to navigate, be diplomatic while handling yourself. It wont happen over night, could be thirty years from now, learn how to maintain interest. Be professional!” Again, another great piece of advice for the studio majors in the audience.

He talked a lot about his sound suits, describing them as a sensory experience and a magical transformation. His suits take control of the person wearing them, very reminiscent of the Egungun masqueraders in west Africa. The first sound suits were Cave’s response to the Rodney King incident of 1992 and how his character was portrayed. He was trying to find the answer to what it would feel like to be discarded, undervalued, and dismissed. The transformative qualities of his suits pursue the concepts of identity; by concealing the gender, race, class, etc., the viewer is forced to look without judgment.

Nick Cave at one point said, [I] “use my work as an artist with a specific responsibility.” One of the things I admire most about his art is the optimism he communicates. His work is often a response to social inequities in the United States, such as his current project TM13, based on the death of Trayvon Martin. Yet, while his work is a response to a very negative event, Cave continues to bring forth positivity.

Kent State was honored to have Nick Cave in an intimate setting. The interview was ended with the opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions. Nick Cave thoughtfully and sincerely answered each and every question – and there were many. At the end,  a woman asked him how he knew when his art was finished and ready for gallery, to which he replied, “When it’s good, it starts to breath.”


Sarah Bartram received her B.A. in Art History from The University of Akron. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Art History at Kent State University where she also teaches Art History courses as a graduate assistant. You can contact Sarah at