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I have aspired to be an artist since adolescence. I saw a Studio Ghibli movie and wanted to create that same magical feeling in others. However more recently, I think I have may have aspired only to create nothing more than escapism, rather than content that truly helps anyone. I don't feel that I am doing more to contribute to the world than farmers, doctors, and the like. Additionally, much of the work I aspire to is largely inspired by nerdy things that I obsess over, or things that make me feel a certain way that I want to replicate. But that is self-serving, and not a display of my compassion.

Many people want to be artists, however we are drowning in a complete excess of artistic media. Artists today compete heavily for the economy of people's attention spans. We exonerate film auteurs like Hitchcock, Miyazaki, Spielberg etc., but those people had to compete with many others

I still feel the desire to create work that is personal, expressive and cathartic. I want to create art that connects me to like minds. However, I feel that my artistic pursuits could be more passionate. And that can be hard when you feel a need to mold your work to the demands of social media.

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    You could create arts work related to the Buddha Dhamma. That could help inspiring many people toward higher more noble paths. But you might have to do a side job to help paying the bills cuz majority of people nowadays are only interested in arts that stimulate sensual desire, hence your noble art work alone might not be able to support your living.
    – santa100
    May 16, 2022 at 2:03

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I think any career which allows one to practice the five precepts, Right Livelihood, Right Speech and Right Action (which includes the five precepts) without any obstruction, is a career that is aligned WITH Buddhism. I think we should not make lay Buddhism more complicated than it should be.

So, a career in art is fine, but preferably you should avoid using art to inflame others' passion, greed, anger and hatred (please see Talaputa Sutta for details).

Here are the five precepts:

  1. I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
  2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
  3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
  4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
  5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

Here's a reminder of Right Livelihood from AN 5.177:

"A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison."

Here's a summary of Right Speech from SN 45.8:

"And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech."

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Such an interesting question. Since I do not believe you went into detail about your practice experience answering this is tricky. I am gathering you have not taken robes. If that is the case, then being a lay practitioner will require some sort of work to support yourself, unless you are independently wealthy. I personally see nothing wrong with creative pursuits, what is more important is intention. One can do what seems like a wholesome livelihood, but if the intention is for wealth and power, then even a charitable action can be tainted.

If one gives ample time to practice, meditation, study and puts efforts towards keeping the precepts, the right path will present itself. That at least has been my experience.

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In this day and age, any professional or performer will have to compete in their profession. The competition is not of your making. That is how the industries work today. That is simply how the world is.

Part of being a Buddhist is to realize that one cannot change the world.

"Don't try to bend the spoon Neo, that is impossible. Instead realize what the spoon is. Then you will see that its not the spoon, but you are the one who's bending" - Something I recalled from Matrix the movie.

The only thing that we can change is ourselves. And that is where the Buddhism comes in. Your profession should not stop you from your listening, studying, practicing Dhamma. Its just a choice you make.

As an artist, you might be competing and creating art that does not promote spirituality to your liking. That is tough. But you need to make a living. If your passion is to connect with people's spirituality through your art, you can always do so in your spare time. There are enough channels to share your content with the world - i.e. - YouTube, Flickr, etc.

I know, its not the ideal solution. You still have to work in an industry where you don't work wholeheartedly. But unless you try to express your altruistic intentions through your work on some platform, no one knows and understands you (what's on your mind is not known to others). As an artist, you have the rare gift of sharing your mind with others in a scale other professionals cannot reach. Make the most of it. As per my personal experience, when you start doing so, even as a hobby or a part time gig, you increase your chances of moving into the community of like minded people. You get the attention of like minded communities and increase your chances of landing a full time job that aligns with your true intentions.

You have to take the initiative, and good things will follow you. When your mind is expressed though your art, like minded people will flock around you. You can do a lot of good to the world by being a Kalyana Friend (someone who helps realize Dhamma).

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I see two aspects to your question. The first is related to the specific issues of being an artist and the types of work you might create in relation to the Buddha’s teachings. I believe @ruben2020 created a pretty complete answer with regard to this.

The second is related to one’s efforts in pursuit of ‘success’ in this career (or of any other, actually). I bring this up as you seemed to be – rightly – concerned about the passions and efforts you will have to expend to be ‘successful’ in this career; especially if you define success as not just expressing yourself artistically but also having 1000’s of followers on media and $$ in sales.

As a photographic artist, I know that there will be many fellow artists in your media trying to compete for such ‘success’ and to compete with them you will have to expend incredible passion and effort to achieve it. Such could easily lead you astray by creating an unhealthy attachment to this pursuit & its goals. We all know where this will lead.

In summary, if you pursue a career as an artist who creates unharmful works, there seems to be no indications in the Buddha’s teachings that this should distract you from following the correct path. However, the manner by which you could define and pursue success as an artist in this world could easily lead you away from that path if you are not mindful of how you define your goals and carry out your actions. Best.

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