The Arts & Crafts of Bhutan
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Religious Art
Religious Art

In Bhutan the relationship between religion and the arts is extremely intimate. No artistic expression can be separated from its religious significance. This may be exhibited both directly, through the making of items used directly for religious purposes, and indirectly through the motivations involved in the production process. In many respects artistic heights are associated with spiritual achievement. Many of the most eminent religious figures through Bhutanese history were also renowned for their artistic talents. Pema Lingpa was an accomplished painter, sculptor and architect, and was raised by a family of blacksmiths. The Shabdrung was gifted in painting and sculpting. The great 15th Century bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo is revered as an important saint.

Artistic forms used directly for religious purposes include temples, dzongs, chortens and mani walls, thangkas, wall paintings and images, and numerous ritual objects. Paintings and sculptures are consecrated in a special ceremony, whereby they come to personify the deities they depict. Such works are produced through support from all strata of society. The royal family, nobility and clergy continue to provide very significant patronage. The commission of a work of art is seen as a pious act that will earn great merit. The ubiquity of the arts in Bhutan alludes to the importance of Buddhism in everyday life and the intensity of faith.

Buddhist art serves a very different purpose from other art forms, being concerned with highlighting certain important values associated with spiritual experience. The role of the artist is therefore to transmit such teaching through their art. The iconographical conventions are thus very strict, and artistic freedom may only be expressed in minor background details. Each deity is viewed as having particular special attributes that cannot be changed without altering the meaning and religious function. Such a design places emphasis on traditional wisdom over and above novelty and innovation.

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