An artistic work is a great storytelling tool that not only communicates an artist’s message, but also mirrors his heart and soul, even after the artist has long gone. Hundreds of years after their death, several great artists have remained the source of inspiration for today’s artists through their masterpieces.
Good artwork creates joy and happiness, and has the power to lift our spirits, with some delivering a profound message that becomes food for thought. Sometimes, they might provoke our beliefs and values, but they should be constructive. Most importantly, their creations should be based on respect for differences, particularly in belief and faith. There are many ways artists can choose to express themselves, either positively or negatively. Let me give you an example.
In Thailand, Buddhist art is one of the most popular types of art due to its intricate patterns and unique style, but its popularity is like a double-edged sword as it is sometimes misinterpreted, leading to mockery or over-enthusiasm in promoting Buddha’s teachings through the beauty of this oriental art.
An example of this trend is adding famous faces or mythical/fictional characters to the mural paintings in Buddhist temples. For some reason, this notion is very appealing to artists, and even finds favor with temple abbots who believe it will increase the number of visitors to the temple.
The problem is that this “selling point” works only for a short period. Those added faces are famous people in the modern world – some from TV series, or even Japanese manga. There is no merit to this in terms of a better understanding about Buddhism as Thai mural paintings usually depict Buddha’s life and teachings. Imagine a group of tourists visiting these temples in the future; who would be there to explain what these strange-looking characters, with their outlandish clothes and expressions, are doing in the middle of elaborately-drawn serene faces?
Wouldn’t it be better to create a piece of art that inspires the viewer to seek inner peace, learn more about the Wise One’s path, and practice what he preached? That should be the purpose of Buddhist art because that is also the ultimate purpose of Buddha when he taught Dhamma to the world.