Art and Teaching as Nonaggression

In a public talk about dharma art, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche described how the ruling monasteries in Tibet were funded before the Chinese took over. He refutes the assertion that peasants were flogged and forced to work for the monks. Instead, he says that land and resources were set aside to support certain festivals enjoyed by monastics and lay persons alike. The purpose of his economic digression during an art lecture was to raise the basic question: How are we to organize our life so that we can afford to produce beautiful things, not at the expense or suffering of others? ?

I have chosen a funding model typical among artists and writers I know; I am an educator. Teaching seems to be the common method for artists to support themselves so that they may continue to practice their craft, not at the expense or suffering of others ?. While this isn’t ideal, the alternatives are no more attractive. I would not enjoy being subject to the whim of a wealthy patron or working within the restrictions of a religious order, and teaching is in itself an enriching, rewarding experience.

In the next month I will be moving to Colorado to work as a teaching artist. I’m excited for this opportunity and have begun planning the six week course for high school students. My approach to this class is to first consider what I am interested in learning as a writer and then to decide how I can share my artistic development with my students.

A project that has intrigued me for some time is comic book writing. I enjoy comic books, but I don’t really want to write one. I am interested in how the script for a comic book functions as an intermediate step in the process of generating a graphic novel. The goal of the course I’ve developed is to teach students how to view writing as a recursive process that may or may not be teleological. The end product of the class, a comic book script, is in fact not an end product to be read by an imagined consumer ? but typically is intended for a specific reader: the artist. I’m interested in the implications that this intimacy between writer and reader might afford.

Specifically, I want to undermine the perceived split between writer and reader. This split, according to Trungpa Rinpoche, inevitably leads artists to become clumsy and aggressive toward others and towards oneself. ? In writing a script, one necessarily understands the reader to be a fellow artist and peer. As a teaching-artist, I approach the class with the understanding that my students are also fellow artists and peers. In that sense, I am hoping to create an environment where all participants can explore and develop our writing craft. The challenge will be to hold enough authority to facilitate beneficial discussion, without reifying the hierarchical social orders of education.

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