Can you imagine spending several hours, days, or even weeks on a work of art, and then destroying it? The idea of creating something only to wipe it out when you’re finished is illogical and counterproductive to many people in the Western world. But in some cultures, this is a common procedure, and one that serves a deeper purpose than meets the eye.
Sand painting is the perfect example of ephemeral art – that is, art that is meant to be temporary. To create a sand painting, colored sand is poured carefully into predetermined patterns. Sand painting is a common practice amongst many diverse indigenous cultures from around the world, including the Australian Aborigines, the Native Americans, and the Tibetans, as shown above.
Tibetan sand painting is a perfect example of making art that values “process” over “product”. In the Western world, it’s often the opposite – artists labor over paintings for the purpose of selling them for profit. The art, even though it may be a labor of love, is also a “product”. The “process” of making art is treated as a means to an end.
In Tibetan sand painting, the process of creating the intricate sand mandalas is far more important than the final product. Tibetan sand paintings are created by Buddhist monks for ritual purposes related to healing and blessing. As the sand mandalas are painstakingly created, viewers are often allowed to watch and admire the precision of the artists and the beauty of the design.
Destroying the finished sand mandalas contains a ritual purpose as well; it is a lesson on impermanence. Perhaps artists from Western cultures can benefit from some of these ideas by paying closer attention to the process of making art, rather than worrying about how the final product will turn out.