Pema Rinzin (1966 - ), Peace and Energy 1, 2009. Ground mineral pigments and gold on cloth, 41 x 61 in. Collection of the artist.

“NEW YORK, NY.- There is no Tibetan equivalent for the word “art” as it is known in the West. The closest approximation is lha dri pa, literally, “to draw a deity.” Traditionally, neither the Tibetan language nor the Tibetan cultural framework has recognized art for art’s sake, and an artist’s efficacy rests in his ability to precisely replicate an established visual language and portray the essence of a particular deity.” (

All I can say is that the above statement is WRONG. It is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Good artists and great artists all over the world from the beginning of time have created art as a statement, and beauty for beauty’s sake, quality for quality’s sake, and art for art’s sake.

From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1600. Juliet:
“… that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;…”

I don’t fault the online magazine for this statement above. It is clearly lifted from the gallery catalogue produced to accompany the current Tibetan Contemporary exhibition. It is unfortunate and sad that all things Tibetan must be looked at through the narrow glasses of religion – and Tibetan Buddhist religion at that.

Maybe in this field of Tibetan art, traditional and contemporary, it is time to rely less on religious studies professors, historians, anthropologists, ethnographers and, yes, Tibetologists and rely more on Art Historians and Art Critics. Maybe it is time to rely on the experts who’s job it is to discuss and critic the subject of art: technique, skill, style, harmony, colour balance and beauty. The subject of religion will still remain the domain of religious teachers and scholars. The subject of history will still remain the domain of historians. The subject of iconography will still remain the domain of iconographers. None of this will change.

Some of the earliest and most famous Tibetan contemporary artists of their time were Mantangpa(15th c.), Khyentse (15th c.), Choying Dorje (17th c.), Choying Gyatso (17th c.), Cho Tashi (17/18th c.), and Kangdze Lhadripa (18th c.), amongst many, many others. There is a long history of tradition and change in the Tibetan art culture along with tremendous innovation in technique, style and composition. THIS IS NOT NEW!

Please don’t put the Tibetan artist back in the cave just for the sake of preserving a – Western conceived – Tibetan Buddhist attitude and monopoly on how to look at all things Tibetan.

Take off the binding chains of religious orthodoxy and oppression.
Let the Artist Go! Free the Tibetan Artists! Free the Tibetan Artists!

Courtesy of Jeff Watt’s Blog