March 31, 2014 -- People have now more access to the secrets of Tibetan thangka art after two practitioners of the national intangible cultural heritage set up classes in their homes.
The exquisite artform painted on silk or other cloth has long been a fascinating element of the Tibet autonomous region's culture.
"Thangka skills are passed from fathers to sons, and even though some artists trained non-family apprentices, they only taught them the easy parts," said DanPaRabDan, a thangka master.
"It was a way of succession that lasted for centuries, but it was limited, closed and rigid from the current perspective," he noted. "Many of the old artists have already passed away, so there is a shortage.
"As a great treasure of national culture, it is tremendous pity if we lose it. That's why I am trying to expand the ranks of thangka painters," he said.
In addition, Tibet University established a thangka major in 2000 with more flexibile entry requirements more flexible, accepting females, people from other ethnic groups and even foreigners.
Some are educated to become teachers. They also learn modern art skills such as sketching and coloring to become more professional and comprehensive.
"Thangka paintings suffered serious damage during the 'cultural revolution' (1966-1976), but now have much better protection, especially after it became an item on the nation's intangible cultural heritage list in 2006," said GalSangTseDan, an inheritor of the heritage and student of DanPaRabDan.
"A growing number of people have begun to realize its value. They are dazzled by the bright colors and exquisite delineation."
Success in producing special thangka pigments is also important for protection of the artform, GalSangTseDan said.
Traditional pigments use natural minerals and plants found on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, but the ingredients and formulations are secret. They enable the thangka to retain their bright colors for even 1,000 years, DanPaRabDan said.
He added that it is unadvisable to undertake too much "innovation" and disconnect the classic Tibetan patterns and reassemble them. Instead, he suggested that artists seeking to innovate should find inspiration in Western and traditional Chinese paintings.
"Thangka art has a high position in local people's minds because it mainly features Buddhist themes they all believe in. It is also slowly gaining attention across the world, bringing more fans from across the globe," GalSangTseDan said.