tibetan art, rubin museum, jeff watt, tibetan iconography,
“Peace and Energy 1” by Pema Rinzin © 2010 Pema Rinzin

Himalayan Art Resources’ Jeff Watt couldn’t be more emphatic: Art for art’s sake is as old as Tibet—in fact, far older. So you can imagine how ticked off the Tibetan iconography expert was when he read this at artdaily.org:

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. (Artdaily.org).

Watt couldn’t be more unequivocal: Wrong, wrong, and wrong again! He writes in response:

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…

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.

Jeff doesn’t blame artdaily.org completely: “It is clearly lifted from the gallery catalogue produced to accompany the current Tibetan Contemporary exhibition,” he writes. “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.” We’ll all have to be a little more careful. There’s still time to address this before he returns from Seattle (I keep up with his travel blog). 

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