"Modern life has altogether too much ugliness. This is doubly so since most of it is so unnecessary. The ugliness of poverty may be excused, but the ugliness of the mediocre, the bland, and the lifeless is an appalling waste. Beauty sensitizes the soul — evoking the finer, subtler feelings and inspiring noble thoughts. Ugliness depresses and diminishes life — sapping the creative spirit of the individual and weakening the character of society.
"There is unnecessary ugliness, not only in the things we make, but in the way we make them. Mass production insures that quantity dominates quality, and profit rules beauty. White collar or blue, the worker is taken to be a machine. Engaged, not as a whole person, but as a tool of production, he becomes alienated from his work and himself. No wonder the worker is more interested in sports or gossip than in his or her work. No wonder, in the words of popular bumper talk, he 'would rather be fishing' or she 'would rather be shopping.' Work devoid of meaning and spirit, work without the discipline and satisfaction of a job well done, is work without joy. So work has gotten a bad name, and we live for the weekends. Art curator and philosopher Ananda K. Coomaraswany put it like this: 'It is taken for granted that while at work we are doing what we like least, and at play what we should wish to be doing all the time.'
"Zen and art can teach us how to work beautifully. From Zen, we can learn to embrace work, to accept responsibility for ourselves and our world, without seeking to escape. From art we can draw lessons — the lessons of the spirit at work (the inspiration of the artist) and the lessons of dedication to and sacrifice for the vision one sees. Zen says: No sense waiting for Heaven. This very life on earth is the Buddha Realm. Therefore, let it be a beautiful life. The Buddha nature is within all things; therefore, treat them with love and kindness, care and understanding.
"Conceiving of ourselves as artists in whatever work we do gives us a metaphor for a life of integrity, service, enjoyment, and excellence. We can draw strength from the lives of the great artists and cultivate an appreciation of their works. Really, there is no significant transformation of our increasingly global culture without changing our ideas about what work is and what work is for. Conceiving of ourselves as artists and injecting the spirit of beauty into our work from beginning to end can play an important role in this transformation. Cultivating an appreciation of art and the the artistic life fosters a desire to serve humanity in a spirit of beauty — no matter one's calling.
"Learning to appreciate the art of others is as much a part of building a beautiful world as developing the artist within ourselves. Real art appreciation will produce, not only more and better contemplative or 'fine' artists: it can also produce better carpenters, managers, and tailors, and most importantly, better human beings. Art is for the sake of the living everywhere. Its lessons, traditions, and revelations belong to us all."