Nepali art is as old as Nepali culture despite the fact that we can only find the sculptures of fourth century A.D., the point of time in Lichchhabi period. This period is considered as the golden age of Nepali art. From the quality of these exclusive artworks we can deduct that Nepali art was much older than that. Likewise, the travelogue of the seventh century’s Chinese ambassador mentions that there were beautiful wall paintings on the houses of Kathmandu valley despite the fact that the earliest Nepali painting ever found is the Prajnaparamita manuscript illumination. Our culture is as old as our civilization, and our art is a constituent part of our culture. Our cultural rituals and festivals integrate a number of arts as sculpture, music, painting, performance and installation. At the then time, art was not for art’s sake but for life. Art had spiritual as well as pragmatic value. We can find this trend, for instance, in Mithila art even today.
As Nepali art developed, it crossed a number of stages. We can find the shift from religious to secular, objective to subjective, external to internal, others to self, referential to abstract and so on. Earliest arts and architectures were symbolic. They depicted something but signified something else. They have didactic values, that is, they teach moral lessons. As they are religious, they are mystical and magical. The deities and human figures always have youthful body even in death bed. The artworks are anthropomorphic in the sense that even the divinities are in human form and express human emotions. The early forms of Nepali paintings are manuscript illumination, paubha, mandala, pata (narrative scroll painting) and wall painting. Pagoda temple, Shikhara style temple, stupa and monastery were the examples of architecture.
During the Rana regime, secular themes, realism and oil colour replaced religious themes, symbolism and home-made colours. Instead of gods and goddesses, the portraits of the Rana rulers and their family members were executed. In this period, the art of portrait reached to its climax in the history of Nepali art. Landscape with hunting scenes and still life paintings were also created. Western Neoclassical architecture influenced the Nepali architecture.
After the fall of the Rana regime and the establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1951 A.D., many western influences entered in the domain of Nepali art due to the cross-flow of people within and across the border. Gradually, Nepali artists began to practice the techniques of Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, Abstractionism and Surrealism. The art shifted from Realism to Abstractionism, public to personal, objective to subjective. Nepali artists began to explore their inner self rather than representing external objects and events.
Nepali artists are aware of their own tradition and the novel trends in the world art. They have learned the past and absorbed the contemporary, now they are attempting to unlearn the rules and formulae what they had learned, and hearing their own inner voice, creating their own codes and putting their own signature in subconscious manner. Listening to oneself and expressing in one’s own visual language is perhaps one of the best ways of creating art.