Artists and Society in Modern Tibetan Literature
Keywords:Modern Tibetan literature
It is usually thought that modern forms of Tibetan culture started to emerge largely in the latter half of the twentieth century, although there existed some signs and developments of modernization already in the first half. Since then, modern and traditional arts have existed side by side, often influencing each other and even appearing in hybrid forms. This situation is reflected in stories about artists in contemporary Tibetan fiction: these literary works include stories about artists which reflect both traditional Tibetan arts and folk culture and modern arts. This essay focuses on prose works by three writers: Dhondup Gyal (1953–1985), Tashi Palden (b. 1962), and Tsering
Dhondup (b. 1961). In the works discussed, the main characters are representatives of different art forms. The stories contain descriptions of the lives of artists and themes related to becoming, practising, and living as an artist. After the occupation of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s, Tibetan society underwent a considerable transformation. The changes in society and its norms and values are also reflected in the descriptions of the artists’ lives. The relationship between artists and the surrounding society cannot be characterized unidimensionally. The stories describe highly differing attitudes and values towards culture and art, which range from appreciating and being supportive to limiting and being negative. The relationship between the artist and society may also undergo changes within a single story, reflecting the influence of different attitudes and cultural policies in the society towards the practice of an artistic vocation. Examining the descriptions of artists and the theme of living as an artist, this essay contributes to the discussion of the genre of artist stories in Tibetan culture.