Eden Maxwell on Art in Zen and the Zen of Art

Zen is a term that is bandied around in common language with great freedom. Here, a Zen practitioner and artist, Eden Maxwell, author of “An Artist Empowered: Define and Establish Your Value as an Artist—Now” tells us how these realms interconnect.

An Artist Empowered by Eden Maxwell

Riehlife: What does Zen Buddhism have to do with art?

Eden Maxwell: The source of all great art is intuition; I say this because spontaneity, creation, cannot be planned. Planned art is design, and that’s another subject.

Riehlife: What about the art in Zen Buddhist tradition?

Eden Maxwell: In Zen Buddhism, the fundamental concept is to intuitively grasp the truth; there are no lengthy discourses, and no reasoning for a logical answer.

Those who practice Zen reject the phantom world; you are capable of perceiving the world directly; this is power; this is the gift each true artist paints, writes, dances—name your form.

Nothing is more profound than direct personal experience of a thing, which is the point of both Zen and art.

Dharma Kites by Eden Maxwell
Dharma Kites, 22″ x 17″ by Eden Maxwell

Riehlife: What is art in the Buddhist context?

Eden: Art as self-expression is a modern concept that began with the Renaissance some 500 years ago. Art in the Buddhist tradition is not about self-expression, as everything is connected.

Remember, Buddha, who predated as well as inspired Zen, saw no separation in reality; in this philosophy, there is no you; there is no me. Taking the concept further, certain Buddhist artists wouldn’t sign their works, for doing so would be an act of ego, which Buddhist philosophy teaches causes suffering.

Traditional Buddhist art portrays the cosmology of this philosophy. Then, there are artists who call themselves Buddhists and create a personal art. We must be careful about what we understand and what others claim to understand, as these understandings might be quite different—even though they seem to be living under the same philosophical roof.

Riehlife: Are there correspondences between Zen Buddhist art and Modern Art?

Eden: In Zen Buddhist art, as in a Zen rock garden for example, we find an essence or simplicity that you might call Minimalism, where less is more.

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