In Professor Ming Xue’s film, A Woman Who Paints Thangkas, there is not only an intense focus on Chinese thangkas, but an intimate description of the struggle that comes along with exercising a love and passion for thangkas, especially as a woman and mother. The film follows a young lady, named Lutso, who is an extremely talented Tibetan female thangka painter. One of the main reasons Xue decided to focus on her is because painters like Lutso are shockingly rare. The process of learning to paint breathtaking thangkas is a tedious, long, and only semi-rewarding one. A sad reality of the world is that one can dedicate their entire life to any art form, but only a few can use their gifts to turn a profit, managing to find financial stability and fulfillment. Xue does a wonderful job showing how Lutso is on this journey, and how she is trying her hardest to find her own path. To do this, Xue shows the immense weight on Lutso’s shoulders, whether it is her own child or a sack of wheat, and how she is still working to be a painter against all odds. Although Lutso’s talent of balancing family, money, and silently fighting gender oppression can’t be depicted on a canvas, Xue still manages to show Lutso’s growth in this field finishing the movie with her and an art dealer making deals and talking business, something that Lutso described as “unrealistic” in years prior.
Before watching this movie, Our class had studied a variety of artifacts, statues, buildings, paintings and other miscellaneous objects with meaningful historical context, however, no artwork we observed left me feeling emotionally invested or attached. Xue’s film explained the simple story of how Lotsu’s paintings was made, but her film differed from the other work we have studied as it brought life to the passion, character, struggle, and reason for how these beautiful thangkas came to be. Usually, when we learn about art in this class it is in two forms of media, pictures and writing. Similarly, the vast majority of my other classes also present media in the form of written documents. Personally, this has normalized readings and makes me view them for their objectivity and factuality. Xue’s film was an extremely refreshing way of studying art history, as its new lens, that of a documentary, allowed me to not only become emotionally invested in Lotsu and her story, but in her thangkas as well.