Bhutan’s artistic tradition has its roots in Buddhism with almost all representation in the arts. A rare blend of Tibetan, Indian and Chinese traditional styles in characteristic Bhutanese setting. Bhutanese art is mostly symbolic. Principally located in monastic centers, it is highly decorative and ornamental. The Buddhist nature of Bhutan’s artistic heritage may be traced to Pema Lingpa, the great 15th century terton (the treasure discoverer) who was an accomplished painter, sculptor, xylographer and architect.
In 1680, Desi Tenzin Rabgye opened the school of Zorig Chusum for thirteen types of Bhutanese arts and crafts under the instructions of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Such promotion of traditional Bhutanese art has persevered through the centuries with continued patronage provided by the royal family, nobility and clergy. The common people who depend on the artisans for a wide variety of metals and wooden objects, indispensable to typical Bhutanese households, provide active support to the arts. The thirteen arts of Zorig Chusum area Lhazo (Painting), Shingzo ( Carpentery), Parzo (Carving), Jinzo (Sculpture), Lugzo (Casting), Garzo (Blacksmith), Tsharzo (Bamboo Works), Serzo Ngulzo (Goldsmith & Silversmith), Thagzo (Weaving), Tsehemzo (Embroidery), Dozo (Masonry), Kozo (Leather Work) and Dezo (Paper Works).
Traditional Bhutanese art is distinctive for its religious flavor and anonymity. The artist is often a religious man who creates the work commissioned by the jinda or patron. It is considered a pious act that gains merit for both patron and artist. Unlike western arts, the artist’s name is almost never revealed on Bhutanese paintings, but often the name of jinda is sometimes mentioned on the work so that his pious act may be remembered.
Paintings and sculptures are made by the groups of artists working in special workshops executed by monks or laymen. The basic preliminary work is done bythe disciples after which the master carries out the finishing touch of the details.
Traditional Bhutanese artists work to make a work of faith. They bound by the very strict iconographic conventions in Bhutanese art and must observe them meticulously. Artists can however express their own personality in minor details or scenes.
Over the years, the development of tourism and establishment of a government school for arts and crafts has brought about a change in the purpose of art, especially for the younger generation. For some, the desire to make a living out of art has taken over religious motive.