My father, a potter, ceramics artist, and teacher, recently raised the issue of whether it is possible to have art without an artist. Though his question was motivated by a conversation he'd had with another artist about what we might call social action art—in which an “artist” acts essentially as a facilitator for a group of people to devise an activity that in some way reflects or attempts to fulfill their aspirations and concerns. The activity may be typically familiar as art, such as painting a mural, but it may equally be something that serves a direct social need, such as distributing blankets to homeless people. (The corollary question, of course, is what defines an activity as art.)
My response was basically to displace the question of a doer—the idea I was getting at was not specific to art, but more fundamentally about definitions of self and intentional action. One of the essential teachings of Buddhism is anatta: “no self”—which my teacher Ajahn Buddhadasa would describe obliquely with phrases such as “no walker, only walking; no maker, only making.” That is, there is activity, but no “person” initiating the action: all perceptions of self are based on (inter)dependent conditions that ultimately rest on other conditions, with no starting or ending point.1 One of the keys to practice according to this set of insights is developing attention (through meditation and other means) that at some point spontaneously gives rise to this recognition of anatta. It's not really saying “existence is an illusion” so much as concluding (based on direct observation) that the fact of impermanence negates the possibility of a continuing self. Within this framework, it's demonstrably true; beyond the framework, it's not fully convincing (also based on direct observation).
The application to artistic creation (also authorship) that I was bringing up relates to the common experience of ego dissolution in the creative moment—the sense that the sculpture simply needed to be freed from the stone, or that the story writes itself to the degree that the “creator” can successfully get out of the way. This is especially true of improvisational music. It always depends (at least when artistically successful) on a sufficient degree of technical proficiency as well as on adherence to, or at least response to (or intentional reaction against), some sort of structure—without any structure, it's simply noise, not art.
Nature can be defined as spontaneously arising, interdependent patterns and forms that occur without an identifiable creator; it is highly structured, and the epitome of technical proficiency. It's also the definition of dhamma—“nature” and “practice according to nature”—so the successful art that I'm describing, in which the creator becomes a conduit for the arising of forms, is simply nature performing through the artist. Traditional art in Buddhist cultures approaches this is various ways—the thankgas and mandalas of Tibet emphasize following precisely defined grids, while Zen art (especially zenga calligraphy/brush painting) epitomizes spontaneity arising from developed awareness.2 Both approaches are expressions of nature, though the former works as a tool for developing awareness (that is, it is a meditative process) while the latter is the result (a product).
There is an important distinction between the active attention that defines meditative awareness and the possibility of egolessness in artistic creation—they can certainly coincide (and I would argue that the most successful art occurs when this happens) but the latter can also easily be a trance state, which is actually the antithesis of meditative awareness. The sort of absorption into a greater (transcendent) awareness that is the goal or basis of devotional religious practices (Hindu bhakti for example), and also of spirit-possession rituals (such as Vodun), may be more similar to these trance states than to the active awareness of Buddhist meditation. Even so, these states may also be conducive to creation that occurs with no creator.
1 In Kabbalah this is called ein sof—literally “nothingness” but functionally “infinite.”
2 Also notable is the Fuke Zen practice of suizen, “blowing meditation” (shakuhachi flute), which combines intensive technical demands with the objective of “becoming the wind.”