What’s the secret of starting to make art when you feel unable?
Do the thing you need to do right before you think you are starting.
So you want, you need even, to create a new piece of art. You have no ideas. You have no energy. You have no commission, no enthusiasm, no ( you are sure) absolutely essential (despite the no ideas) tube of teal paint. No title, no design, no purpose.
You do have a couch, a mug of hot chocolate and a burning understanding of the imperative to watch reruns of West Wing and Grey’s Anatomy.
So how do you start? Or is that a trick question? Do you, in fact, wait, for the ideas, the energy , the remaining invented inventory of essential prerequisites to fall like manna from heaven?
No. You do not. Nor, do you start. You can’t, because as you keep reminding me, you have no idea what it is you are starting. So how can you start? No, you can’t start.
But you can – and must – do the one thing that would come right before you started, if you were to start.
So, you are a painter. You paint ( when your muse is with you, which, yes, I hear you, she isn’t today) on canvas. Ok, so go to the studio. Look in stupefaction at the paint you do have. But no, that’s not the thing right before. Put on your apron. Then yet, there are other steps before your right before. Squeeze out the paint onto the palette, unwrap a new canvas. Set it on an easel. Turn on your painting music. Do everything but start. You are not going to start. There is no need to fear starting because we are not starting. We have good manners. It is rude to start without the muse and she is, I know, (I know!) gone. To the mall, to Uzbekistan, to the moon, we care not, only that she is gone and we cannot start.
So don’t. Do the thing right before. Take a brush. Load the bristles with red pigment. Add a drop of water. Hold the brush aloft over the empty canvas. We are almost there. We are almost at the last thing. That last movement, make it now, the movement of the brush to the canvas. Hover that brush over the canvas and there, you are, even in that moment, that millimetre between surface and hanging bristles, not starting.
Except, strangely, you have, for the starting is in the not starting. It is in the sending the muse directions to find her way home, in the making of the start easier than the stopping. Dropping your weary, uninspired arm to allow that red paint to stain the white canvas with livid brazenness is easier than to not start, Because now, to not start requires you to reverse those mundane not-starting steps. It’s easier to spread that paint, whilst your hand it still there, to tease it into it first line, its beginning shape, to thin it to its first glaze than it is to remove the canvas, collapse the easel, clean the palette ,untie the apron, wash the brush, turn off the music, back out of the room, close the door.
Start by not-starting.