I have an increasing concern with how we use the word creative.
Creativity is not taking our repetitive conditioning and modifying it slightly to get some attention. That is what the form of it is in modern times. Most ‘artists’ get a big stance in the headlines out of doing something that is disturbing or controversial. They call this creative work. There have even been cases of people painting with their excretions, claiming that they are to reflect the suffering of their times in this way. If this is creativity, you might as well commit murder. You’ll get your picture on the front page of the newspapers and all the magazines and everybody will know your name. You’ll be the biggest artist of the year.
I like the artist Moebius, an old French comic artist who has inspired many science fiction works. In comments about his work he says, “I realize that my art is a reflection of my life, and not the reverse. For some artists, it’s the contrary. Their life reflects their art.”
He continues with, “Stream of consciousness is not a system for art. The surrealists used it. They called it automatic writing. It’s my own way of being spontaneous, to be free, to follow my inspiration very quickly, in the very moment when I get an idea.”
The work of Moebius stands out with a simplistic beauty. His work is cherished for his bright colors and stylistic world in which his characters embody. Reading the words of Moebius through out ‘The Art of Moebius,’ I can see that he was a man who cared more about his life than his art. If art is indeed to be a reflection of our lives, then we must attend to our lives first and foremost. The beauty in our art will follow if we take care in everything we do. Our art will indeed be an effortless, inspiring, spontaneous endeavor if we live effortless, free and joyous lives. This requires great intelligence and awareness.
The word creative in its origins means to create something completely new. In Buddha’s terms, this means seeing all the building blocks of the house. The mind is something pure and new, which we can experience when there is no more conditioning surrounding it. When all the building blocks are seen, when there are no more sankharas, we will have no walls blocking our creative intuition.
Alan Moore, a writer for many graphic novels and comics, says that we must work without fear or desire. This is an act of equanimity. To be aware and equanimous is creative. Only in a state of meditation, which is unconditioned enquiry, can we truly be free. When we are searching for freedom, whether it’s freedom from or freedom for something, we will be in a state of catching up, in reaction.
It is the same thing in art as being in the zone. If I’m writing this with the want to write it to get across my point, my true point will be taken aback by my desire to get the point across. Such as, if I see something that I want to draw, how can I draw it purely? I must have no desire, or else I will simply be expressing my want to express it.
Our pure nature is perfect. It’s like the sky which the wind doesn’t move. There is no direction to go. Our awareness is full. Leonardo Da Vinci says that, “The mind of a painter must resemble a mirror, which always takes the color of the object it reflects and is completely occupied by the images of as many objects as are in front of it. Therefore you must know, O Painter, that you cannot be a good one if you are not the universal master of representing by your art every kind of form produced by nature.”
A mirror is always full, yet always empty, never grasping and never rejecting. When the mind is clear, it is this way, an impermanent, changing phenomenon. This is true creativity. In this awareness, all is creative, whether it’s painting or simply being. When we are sensitive to our presence, we will naturally see colors as vibrant, expressions as alive and understand how they are reflections of what we are.
One can do art to reflect the suffering in life. Many works of art are about this, but if you are suffering while you are doing your art, then your life is reflecting your art, not the other way around. If we are in pain and getting over-thrown by the emotion of it, then we are not understanding it. This is having the capacity and the awareness to understand something without getting mixed up in it. That is empathy. It’s being the painter and not the paint. It’s being the mirror and not the reflection. We must have the empathy and the care to do so. It’s such that without awareness and equanimity, we cannot be creative.
As is said in the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” When you’re attending beauty, you won’t even care about the reflection. The painting is just a by-product of the painter. Like Sayagyi U Ba Khin said to S. N. Goenka when he first signed up for Vipassana, “You don’t just sign up to get rid of your migraine head-aches. You sign up for long-term spiritual practice. You don’t open up a sugar factory to get molasses. Molasses is a by-product.”
“Okay, I sign up for long-term spiritual practice.”
So he sat down and observed his breath, and the rest was a by-product.
Now that’s a work of art.