This paper examines my writing process in an attempt to determine how my knowledge of cultural anthropology informs the fiction I write. Although I have always assumed that what I have learned from this field significantly impacts my writing, I have never explored the connection in any depth. Receiving the JASCA Award gave me an opportunity to seriously examine the relationship of cultural anthropology to the stories I write. In the end, however, many facets remained unclear because the flow of thought vanished whenever I drew too close. Stories are something which I bring into being yet which also come into being of their own accord. As such, even though I am consciously involved in the writing process, I am often mystified by the way my brain works.
Still, through this exploration, two things became clear: First, what enables me to write is a chain of mental associations triggered by a vivid image leaping unbidden into my mind, and second, those associations, which spread like fire once ignited, are deeply connected to my cultural anthropological studies and fieldwork. I hope this paper will shed light on how individual experience is involved in the process by which the human brain gives birth to stories, a creative process that is, in a sense, universal.
Tibetan thangka is a genre of religious art, mostly paintings, created in the Tibetan Cultural Region since the 12th century. Notwithstanding thangka-making is considered as a sedentary occupation, the itinerant aspect in painters’ life is hard to disregard. Most painters travel for economic purposes, opportunities to learn different artistic styles and accumulation of religious merits. Their diverse traveling experiences will be the focus of this article. First, I examine the thangka-making practices in two historical centers—Rebgong and Lhasa. I outline the process of commercialization of Thangka Art within the larger narrative of Tibetan modernization. Second, by analyzing the journeys of two artists—a Sichuan-born Tibetan thangka painter traveling in West China, and a Shikatse-born Tibetan thangka painter traveling the global art world—I illustrate how the modern itinerary is relevant to the historical and institutional background. Additionally, forays into the contemporary art world, can themselves be construed as journeys.