(We Bhutanese treasure our traditional art forms and deem it crucial to preserve them as part of our cultural and religious heritage. It is what gives us our unique identity. Nurtured over the centuries by the clergy, ‘Zorig Chusum,’ which translates as ‘The Thirteen Traditional Arts & Crafts,’ were originally conducted in the Dzongs, Monasteries and Palaces. The art forms, heavily influenced by Buddhism and typically depicting religious images, motifs and symbols, aren’t merely ornamental but instructive in nature. They have a strong didactic intent, revolving around religious themes and spiritual practices; and are used as a vehicle for transforming ordinary consciousness to that of an enlightened one. The aspect of artistic creativity and identity is therefore secondary, which just might explain why the particular identity of artists and sculptors was never very important in Bhutanese art traditions.
The institute commonly referred to as ‘Painting School’ is all the more important to us as its mandate is in line with the ‘Preservation and Promotion of Our Cultural heritage,’ which is one of the four main pillars of our development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Amongst others, students specialize in ‘Lhadri’ or painting, ‘Jimzo’ or sculpture, ‘Patra’ or wood carving, ‘Tshemdrup’ or embroidery and ‘Thagzo’ or weaving as well. Courses range from four to six years. It is here that one gets the opportunity to witness firsthand the soon to be master craftsmen/women working on the intricate Thangkha paintings, woodwork and sculpture. Hence its inclusion in the ‘must visit’ list.)