Shambhala Sun | January 2013
When relaxation develops in us, through letting go of neurosis and experiencing some sense of space and cool fresh air around us, we begin to feel good about ourselves. We feel that our existence is worthwhile. In turn we feel that our communication with others could also be worthwhile and pure and good. On the whole we begin to feel that we are not cheating anybody; we are not making anything up on the spot. We begin to feel that we are fully genuine. From that point of view, one of the basic principles of a work of art is the absence of lying. Genuine art tells the truth.
Dharma art means not creating further pollution in society; dharma art means creating greater vision and greater sanity. Art has to be done with genuineness, as it actually is, in the name of basic beauty and basic goodness. When basic goodness or basic beauty is not being expressed, what you do is neurotic and destructive, and cultivating other people’s sanity becomes difficult. Nonetheless, you cannot take the easy way out for the sake of making lots of money or becoming a big name. There has to be the basic integrity of maintaining our human society in a state of sanity. That is and should be the only way to work with art. The purpose of a work of art is bodhisattva action. This means that your production, manifestation, demonstration, and performance should be geared toward waking people up from their neurosis.
The name artist is not a trademark. The problem of the modern age is that everyone has become merchandised, everybody is a mercenary, and everybody has to have a label: either you are a dentist, an artist, a plumber, a dishwasher, or whatever. And the label of “artist” is the biggest problem of all. Even if you regard yourself as an artist, I request you not to write “artist” for your occupation when you fill out a form. From my way of thinking, and from what my training tells me, when you have perfected your art and developed your sensitivities, you cannot call yourself anybody at all.
Being an artist is not an occupation: it is your life, your whole being. From the time you wake up in the morning, when the buzzer in your clock rings, until you go to bed, every perception you experience is an expression of vision—the light coming through your window, the hot-water kettle boiling to make tea, the sizzling of the bacon on the stove, the way your children get up with a yawn and your wife comes down in her dressing gown into the kitchen. If you limit that by saying, “I am an artist,” that is terrible. It is showing disrespect for your discipline. We could safely say that there is no such thing as an artist. There is just art—dharma art, hopefully.
Adapted by Carolyn Rose Gimian from “Heaven, Earth, and Man,” in The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, volume Seven, based on a seminar entitled “Dharma Art” given in Boulder, Colorado, in July 1979.
Excerpted from the January 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine.