Shiva the Destroyer

The Prachetas paying homage to Shiva, from a Bhagavata Purana series Indian, Pahari about 1740 Opaque watercolor, silver and gold on paper Overall: 21.8 x 32.6cm (8 9/16 x 12 13/16in.) Image: 17.5 x 27.8 cm (6 7/8 x 10 15/16 in.) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston John Gardner Coolidge Collection 63.144 © 2010 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Brahma - The Creator / Vishnu - The Sustainer / Shiva - The Destroyer

"What do you do when you just want to crumple up your drawing?" a student in my Figure Drawing class recently asked. 

I paused. Hmm. 

"What if you scrapped your approach instead and picked up another tool out of the box?" I proposed. "Even if it meant obliterating big chunks of your existing drawing - what if replacing your mode of thinking with another was a way forward?"

Then I looked at my student and remembered he studies yoga. All at once I thought Shiva, the Destroyer.

In Hindu iconography, Shiva destroys worlds. He is also called the Transformer. 

I think about De Kooning, ripping drawings only to rejoin them in completely new configurations. I think a lot about Matisse, altering one nude after another on the same canvas, painting and scraping and repainting until everything balances, leaving visible traces of his process in the layers. Or of Picasso, turning a faun's head into a chicken into a fish into a vase of flowers. I think of a potter destroying a pot to make a better one, or of the simplest act of erasing and drawing over in order to find a more accurate line. 

Clearly, destruction is a vital force in art. 

Here's how I see it: Creative nerve is the courage to make something from nothing, like Brahma; to hold it in balance as it develops, like Vishnu; and sometimes, to destroy it, like Shiva, knowing you will lose whatever you had in the gamble to find a version that works.

Failure isn't the end of a thing, it's an invitation to remake it in another form, with a different approach.

To make art is to destroy. But destruction isn't negative, it's the force that drives the next phase - the most important one, the one you didn't plan. 


I learned the little I know about Hindu gods from the luscious Garden & Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur at the Seattle Asian Art Museum