Take a look at this painting (below) by Todd Brown, one of San Francisco’s most interesting artists. Notice the text?
Act One: Begin.
Act Two: Keep Beginning.
Act Four: Begin Again.
Act Five: The End.
There you have a pretty straightforward description of the creative life. Except, of course, for the mysterious absence of a third act. An error, perhaps? I don’t know. I like the mystery.
But this matter of beginning is clear enough. Brown seems to be putting aside matters of accomplishment in favor of process. Accomplishment vs process is, I think, the great dichotomy of each artist’s life.
What is the source of creative satisfaction? A finished work or the ongoing process? Perhaps the mysteriously missing Act Three involves the completion of some sort of work. But, in leaving it out, it could be that our artist friend is implying that the very idea of completion (before the final act) is illusory. There is only a continual beginning, and any apparent completion or accomplishment along the way is meaningless unless it is also a new beginning.
Trying to speak of this, it seems impossible to avoid the cloying scent of new age wildflowers. We’ve heard the slogans: “Each day a new beginning…” “Today is the first day of the rest of your life…” “One day at a time…” and so on. Yeah, OK, alright, I suppose so—but these are just slogans. Real life is more than that.
I’m reminded of a joke I used to hear among recovering alcholics, describing some of their still-suffering brethren: “He’s the sort of guy that, when he finds himself in a rut, goes out to buy furniture.”
I mean one can get overly committed to yesterday’s project, get caught up in finishing this idea or that one, and be unable to see anything fresh.
I often say when working on a painting that the process consists of making a mess, then rescuing it, over and over, until it seems finished. The point is: you can’t get committed to the mess. You have to make it, if you want to do something creative, but then you have to begin again.
I once took a painting class from Mr. Brown where he demonstrated this truth. There were about seven of us in the class, and we had spent perhaps 12 hours on our canvasses. There was now only half an hour left of the weekend-long workshop. Todd walked about the room handing us cans of white gesso. “Paint it all out,” he told us. “Just cover it up, fast as you can.” Some of us were angry, some of us literally cried. It seemed like a cruel theft of our time. “Do it! Do it!” insisted our coach, monstrously. So we did. Then, he said, “You’ve got 20 minutes, start something new.” We set to work with a new-found urgency, determined to make up for lost time, not wanting to leave the workshop empty handed. The results of that 20 minute spurt—believe me—were far better than what we had painted over.
So, today, my punksters: begin something. If you’ve been working on a project, find something in it to start over. Take something you’ve been working on and mess it up, attack it fresh: let go! let go! let go!
And then, just for the hell of it, no matter how busy you are, make a start on something new, no matter how absurd it seems. Write a page of notes for a new novel. Plan a vacation you never expect to take. Start an impossible project like, say, learning to sail or fly an airplane. Begin it.
Don’t rush to Act V. You’ll get there soon enough.
– Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian