Dignity of an Artist and plagiarism in Bhutan

Tracing from a projecting image (literally from a projector) of an old drawing (by a Traditional Artist) onto a canvas and tracing it to paint as your own is plagiarism.

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. (Plagiarism | University of Oxford, 2022)

As a researcher for traditional arts and crafts prominently in South East Asian countries I grew interested in the development of traditional art in Bhutan especially after witnessing a colorful display of art in the Paro International Airport. This beautiful country is well known for its remote culture and age old traditions. But as one of the fastest developing countries, westernization more than globalization has significantly impacted its people in the adaptation of culture especially in the Arts and Crafts, Language and Fashion.

Nonetheless, I had the pleasure of visiting Zorig Chosum, where the thirteen Arts and Crafts of Bhutan are being taught. I learned that it requires the student to go through several years of study and practice for to be able to produce paintings on their own. From my research in the many arts, ‘Thangka’ is one of the most intricate ways to paint an image (image mainly consisting of a god or other buddhist iconography). It was such delight to see this tradition preserved to pass on to future generations.

That being said I write this with much regret that some of the practices in the contemporary art scene is undignified especially if the youths are encouraged in the wrong way. I wanted to buy one of the Tara (goddess) from presented in the Airport and I learned that it was traced. It disheartens me to write this but when I asked about the process, few of the artists working in VAST (Voluntary Artist Studio) had mentioned that it was thoroughly traced with the use of a projector from an old copy print and that many of the portraits were done in the same way as well. As someone who has heard written so much about the delicate methods of painting and preserving a ‘Thangka’, this is truly demoralizing.

This leads me to question, what part of preserving culture and ancient traditions matter?

In the sense of Art like painting, doesn’t the process, the methods of making an art-piece equally important? The misuse of technology/ill monitored process of art making can have a bad influence on a whole generation of promising artists.

By Joyanne Herbert

The writer is a reporter from Minnesota, USA

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