Art and Suffering

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  • Sekishi
    Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
    • Apr 2013
    • 5670

    #61
    Apologies for coming late to this party. I've enjoyed the varied opinions here. This is not a response to anyone in particular here, just sharing some perspectives.

    I have increasingly wrestled with the nature of "art" the past few years (more on the music front, but it is similar). For much of my adult life I considered myself to be an "artist" and "musician" (or at least a "wannabe" of both). For a fair bit of that time it was also a significant source of suffering.
    - "Why oh why am I forced to take this desk job to make ends meet? Poor me!"
    - "I gave up on my dreams. I am a sellout / loser."

    It seemed that because the creative process often produces an artifact - "a thing", the creator must also be turned into "a thing" - an "artist". Over time I came to see the error in this, and realize that most of the angst I was suffering was caused by the verb "to be". Letting go of the labels (e.g. "artist") was hugely freeing. The creative process is a verb, a doing not a being. In Zenny language, I guess I would say, "When writing music, write music. When sketching, sketch." This sounds so obvious to me now, but for many years I simply could not see it.

    Anyhow, that isn't really what I wanted to post about though. ^_^

    Over the past two or three years I have been struggling with something new, one directly related to practice and the creative process. I am not sure I can put it all into words, but here are some aspects:

    - Practice has knocked down the foundation of symbol for me. I have little or nothing to say anymore, and when I do have something to say, words, sounds and images feel completely and totally inadequate. A bow says it instead maybe?

    - Question: is it possible to truly put down the self when we create, or does it only ever feed the self/ego? Han Shan wrote his poems on rocks around Cold Mountain, but we still read them over a thousand years later. In practice we put down "self" or at least any ownership or claim to it. Getting up off the cushion to engage the creative process feels like reifying the self all over again.

    - Art can feel manipulative (it might even be inherently so) - we are projecting our own consciousness out into the world with the express goal of manipulating another's consciousness. Want to make someone sad - use a minor chord. Want to make them angry, pick up the tempo and use more dissonance. Want to express distance - use muted tones and lighter colors. Etc. etc. The best artists use this to great effect - like sorcerers! Should we even engage in such acts, and if so, doesn't it come with a huge obligation?

    A few months ago my son and I were on a trip, and we listened to "In a Silent Way" by Miles Davis. He said something that has really stuck with me - something along the lines of "This music does not have a reason - it does not tell a story, or try to get people to dance, it is just music for its own sake." I've tried to integrate that lesson. In the creative process, I do not try to tell a story, make a statement about the world, or induce some mood in the viewer or listener.

    I guess I try to just do what I do, the artifact / outcome is secondary. Perhaps this is not unlike some of our practice (such as Metta), we do what we do with the best of intentions, letting go of outcomes.

    Not sure though, the ground is very shaky here.

    "Here, I created this composition to illustrate the nature of the human condition vis-a-vis old age, sickness, and death." >>>
    "Here, I created this composition to express my suffering of old age, sickness, and death." >>>
    "Here, I created this composition to express suffering." >>>
    "Here, I created this composition." >>>
    "Here, this composition" >>>
    "this composition" >>>
    ???


    Gassho,
    Sekishi
    #sattoday
    Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.

    Comment

    • Byokan
      Treeleaf Unsui
      • Apr 2014
      • 4288

      #62
      Here.



      Gassho
      Lisa
      sat today
      展道 渺寛 Tendō Byōkan
      Please take my words with a big grain of salt. I know nothing. Wisdom is only found in our whole-hearted practice together.

      Comment

      • Byokan
        Treeleaf Unsui
        • Apr 2014
        • 4288

        #63
        Or, to throw more words at it (and you knew I would ):

        I think that any art involves ‘grasping at’ something, a moment, or a feeling, in order to make art from it. Art and language, by substituting one thing for another, make separation, yes? I mean that a word is a substitution for the thing itself; a picture is a representation of a thing. The foundation of symbol? If you are pointing at something, there is separation.

        But. We can’t exist in this realm as a creature totally beyond this realm, a perfect creature that makes no separation and never causes or feels suffering. We love, we work, we communicate. All involve getting into the muck of taking hold of things and engaging with them. Thus, we practice as best we can, amidst it all. I think the benefits of loving, working, and communicating far outweigh the effort needed to practice with the inherent dukkha of getting your hands dirty.

        There is art produced by no-self. It is all around you.

        Here.

        Gassho
        Lisa
        sat today
        展道 渺寛 Tendō Byōkan
        Please take my words with a big grain of salt. I know nothing. Wisdom is only found in our whole-hearted practice together.

        Comment

        • Kokuu
          Treeleaf Priest
          • Nov 2012
          • 6785

          #64
          is it possible to truly put down the self when we create, or does it only ever feed the self/ego?
          Hi all

          I think it is very possible to put down self when 'art' is made, and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about how we may enter a flow state when we do something very engaging like making art in which the self falls away (sounds like something else we do!). Of course, it is also entirely possible to use art to codify self too.

          As someone said before, I think art is about communication. Artists, mostly, are not trying to manipulate the feelings of other people (although that may well happen) but instead expressing what they have seen, heard, touched and tasted through the medium they have. In this case, a minor chord is likely to be used because it captures what the musician is feeling rather than because (s)he wants to evoke a certain emotion in the listener.

          In haiku writing it is said that the writer is trying to capture a moment in time and share it for the joy of doing so. I definitely feel that. I even write when no one else is going to read them.

          I definitely agree that the label of artist, poet or writer can become limiting, and although as labels they can be a reasonable description of someone's activities, putting them down can allow creation to happen with more of a beginner's mind rather than worrying if what is being made will measure up to a preconceived image or reputation and with certain adherence to schools or styles currently in vogue. That may be the reason that Ryōkan himself declared that there were three things he didn't like:

          poetry by poets
          art by artists
          calligraphy by calligraphers


          Sorry. More words.

          Gassho
          Kokuu
          #sat
          Last edited by Kokuu; 04-21-2015, 07:35 PM.

          Comment

          • Sekishi
            Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
            • Apr 2013
            • 5670

            #65
            Originally posted by Kokuu
            I think it is very possible to put down self when 'art' is made, and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about how we may enter a flow state when we do something very engaging like making art in which the self falls away (sounds like something else we do!). Of course, it is also entirely possible to use art to codify self too.
            I want to be very clear that I am talking about my own experiences, I do not mean to speak for "all musicians", "all artists" or "all practitioners" or anything goofy like that. Also, I apologize in advance for all the words.

            Kokuu, I hear what you are saying about the "Flow State". It was certainly very important in drawing me to the creative process (particularly music) as a youngster. Before I had encountered the term "Flow State", I knew the feeling well. When fully engaged with the creative process, what I typically think of as "myself" drops away, and there is only the music. This experience is highly compelling and seductive (I might even say "addictive").

            Prior to coming to Buddhist practice, the language I would have used to describe this state would have been something like "loss of the self", or "melding of the self with the creative process". But now I see it differently - I see it not so much as a dropping of the self, but a taking on of a new self, one in which the ear or eye (or whatever) is primary, and the other sense organs are secondary (often very distantly so).

            So a question: what are your thoughts on the Vinaya rule against creating (or even listening to) music? Many of our Dharma ancestors (and Buddhists living today) followed this rule, even within the Mahayana. Surely they saw this not as an arbitrary rule, but one important to the dropping of self, and the taking on of fearlessness, Nibbana, enlightenment (pick your favorite word here). There are quite a few different formulations, but I have a copy from the Shramanera Vinaya at hand so I'll use it:

            7. Do not sing or dance, play musical instruments, or watch or listen to such events
            Singing refers to vocal music; dancing refers to recreational dancing; musical instruments refers to lutes, flutes, and the like
            (string, wind, and percussion instruments). One must neither engage in such activities oneself, nor intentionally watch or listen
            to others engage in them. In ancient times there was an immortal who, hearing the delicate and subtle sounds of a woman’s
            song, instantly lost his spiritual attainments. Since the harm from watching and listening can be so severe, how much the more
            harm can come from engaging in such activities oneself. In the present day there are stupid people who quote the sentence in
            the Lotus Sutra which mentions lutes and cymbals and use it as an excuse to indulge in the study of music. The sentence in the
            Lotus Sutra, however, refers to using music as an offering to the Buddhas, not for one’s own amusement. It is permissible to
            make music only when requested, in the performance of ceremonies in the Bodhimanda. Now, because of birth and death, you
            have cast worldly life aside in order to leave home. Can it be fitting to neglect the cultivation of your proper duties and seek
            instead musical skill?



            Originally posted by Kokuu
            As someone said before, I think art is about communication. Artists, mostly, are not trying to manipulate the feelings of other people (although that may well happen) but instead expressing what they have seen, heard, touched and tasted through the medium they have. In this case, a minor chord is likely to be used because it captures what the musician is feeling rather than because (s)he wants to evoke a certain emotion in the listener.
            Of course I doubt many artists look at art as a parasitic process by which we try to implant thoughts or feelings in someone else, but I do think that this is inherent to the communication process, and doubly so for art (which I mean in a wide sense - poetry, music, paintings, etc.). The urge is not simply to make a cold statement about the universe, it is to try to "show" someone something deeply. Warm colors, minor chords, etc. are the tools to do so.

            van Gogh did not tweet "Pretty sky tonight, mostly #3B45AC and #A89624", he painted a picture that allows others to borrow his own consciousness and FEEL that night!

            I don't want to get too dualistic about this, because I do agree with you Kokuu, but I also think that a skilled songwriter knows exactly when to go from a major 5th to a minor 3rd (or whatever) to emphasize a phrase.

            I'm going to stand by my view that all effective communication ("artistic" or otherwise) is about manifesting our own views in someone else. This post is put out into the world in the hopes that Kokuu can see a little of how I see the world, and experience a little of the confusion I am experiencing. The words are tools to that end.

            I think part of what I am arguing in my original post is that practice is leading me away from trying to communicate any particular view (or Views if you prefer), but simply to experience and engage fully the creative process (flow state if you want). Sometimes I may even share an artefact (piece of music or sketch) that comes from this with the world without expectation for the experience in the listener or viewer. Is that an impossibly tall order? I have no idea.

            Originally posted by Kokuu
            In haiku writing it is said that the writer is trying to capture a moment in time and share it for the joy of doing so. I definitely feel that. I even write when no one else is going to read them.
            I hear you on this one brother. I play music every day. 99% of it is unheard by anyone (except sometimes my poor family).

            Originally posted by Kokuu
            I definitely agree that the label of artist, poet or writer can become limiting, and although as labels they can be a reasonable description of someone's activities, putting them down can allow creation to happen with more of a beginner's mind rather than worrying if what is being made will measure up to a preconceived image or reputation and with certain adherence to schools or styles currently in vogue. That may be the reason that Ryōkan himself declared that there were three things he didn't like:

            poetry by poets
            art by artists
            calligraphy by calligraphers
            Lovely! I had not seen this quote before. This resonates with me at multiple levels!

            My final thought on this for today is that I wonder if there is an analogy between my current views on creativity and the old expression that goes something like: to the beginning seeker, the mountain is a mountain, to the middling seeker the mountain is no longer a mountain, and to the advanced seeker, the mountain is a mountain again.

            Right now, the mountain is no longer a mountain, and I'm thrashing a little. ^_^

            Gassho,
            Sekishi
            #satoday
            Sekishi | 石志 | He/him | Better with a grain of salt, but best ignored entirely.

            Comment

            • Byokan
              Treeleaf Unsui
              • Apr 2014
              • 4288

              #66
              van Gogh did not tweet "Pretty sky tonight, mostly #3B45AC and #A89624"

              Haa!

              Gassho
              Lisa
              sat today

              (Whoa. Wait a minute, did we just get a flash of the future of art? )
              展道 渺寛 Tendō Byōkan
              Please take my words with a big grain of salt. I know nothing. Wisdom is only found in our whole-hearted practice together.

              Comment

              • Byrne
                Member
                • Dec 2014
                • 371

                #67
                The trick to being an artist of any kind is to do it every day. Artists aren't inherently different than anyone else other than they produce some sort of art. We don't get to pick our talents, but we can discover them through creative expression.

                Being creative is very similar to practicing zazen. It's quality over quantity and consistency above all else. It is best to practice without goals but remain diligent and focused. Discovery is key. If we practice well, the fruits of our practice will benefit other people, though we don't have a say in exactly how or when that will happen. We can only practice.


                Gassho

                Sat Today

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