The art of Thangka is inextricably linked to Buddhism and a genuine realization of the teachings. Thangkas, from their own side, do not posses any qualities over and above any other object you can find.
The art form started when great meditation masters, with sincere realizations of the teachings, used great artists to help them pass on their wisdom. The symbiotic relationship between a person with a pure realization and an artist with a profound skill fused together to make a picture that can be an object of refuge and inspiration for future teachings and realizations.
If neither the artist has the skill, or the master lacks the realizations, then the Thangka will not fulfill its purpose. In special cases both the pure realizations and the refined skill can manifest in one person, these people go on to become great Thangka master-painters.
Contrary to popular belief, the art of Thangka painting is not about faithfully reproducing what has gone before, in a rote-learning fashion. Without some understanding of compassion, an artist could never really capture the face of compassion on a Buddha. Therefore, Thangka painting is a form of meditation. An exploration of the mind, representing both the teacher's and the student's understanding of that mind. If the understanding is pure and profound, then we can say that the Thangka represents that type of mind and can become an image of value and learning.
This profound and delicate relationship is where the popular misconception about Thankga arises. We are told that this picture of Buddha represents this mind or this Buddha represents this action, but often what we're looking at is a startled, brightly coloured figure that seems completely removed from the idea it is supposed to ignite in us. This is because the artist had no genuine realization of the thing they were supposed to be portraying.
Just like a classic piece of art, a genuine Thangka will easily spark in us the emotion that it is trying to represent. So when we look at a Turner painting, we are immediately struck by the power and awe of nature, or in a Van Gogh we understand the beautiful intricacies of the seemingly mundane. Likewise, when our mind connects to a real Thangka, painted by a genuine master, minds such a compassion, bodhicitta, emptiness will arise easily and spontaneously.
Why should YOU learn Thangka?