Someone recently posted on the [Buddhism Sub-Reddit] a comment that Bhante @sujato made in 2009 on [his blog].
The initial question stated, “Is it possible then for musicians and artists to perform music or paint without having any attachment to their art?”
Bhante replies by addressing the idea that there are aspects of the self that are not explored in meditation and Dhamma. Furthermore, he writes,
It is, perhaps, the very ambiguities and uncertainties of life that art captures so well. In meditation, we confront the presently arisen consciousness, the mind on the very cusp of creating itself. There is a bright clarity there: what is, is, and what is not is nowhere to be seen. And yet it seems to me that those things that are nowhere to be seen still wield their influence. In creative expression we have boundaries: the frame of the canvas, the 4/4 of the song, the lines of a book. These strictures give us the freedom to encounter things within that could never be expressed in the vulnerable space of everyday living. We can freely say things, manufacture an external representation of part of our mind, then sit back and ‘objectively’ look at them, consider them as an outsider would; or even listen to what others say about them…I find it’s much more interesting to ask, ‘What is there in me that is untouched by Dhamma’. Say that, express it as best you can in whatever medium you can, and then ask why? Is this really divorced from Dhamma? If so, what is there to be done about it? Or is it really something else, an aspect of Dhamma that your conscious mind has not yet made sense of or discovered in the literal teachings? For me, this ‘something else’ is, of course, the feminine.
I find this to be a fascinating idea in that it is something I have often struggled with myself as a singer/writer/photographer/etc.–that being, what is art (through self-expression) attempting to achieve and how does it relate to the practice? I think Bhante also makes an excellent point about delving into whether that expression itself is actually separate from the Dhamma or whether it is just an aspect that has not yet been discovered.
For me, art reaches an aspect of the self that goes beyond the self–that in some sense seeks to affirm the universality of human experience. Perhaps that is one of the ways in which art correlates with the Dhamma, in that it recognizes the paradox between the creation of the self and the lack thereof. And interestingly enough, I’ve also found that self-expression acts in accordance with gender (i.e. the exploration of my own masculinity).
However, I think it’s profoundly difficult to understand the ‘yearning’ that artists feel and to understand how it relates to the self and, in addition, to the Dhamma.
I’d be interested to know if anyone knows of any EBTs or other essays that address this subject from a Buddhist perspective.