If creative and destructive forces are linked, what does this say about artists, or mothers, or god?

This is Part 2 of The Event Horizon, a three-part series where we’re considering creation and destruction. If you haven’t heard Part 1, go back and listen. In that part, we learned that black holes create galaxies.

And that led me to wonder: is this an insane thing that only happens with black holes, or does it happen in other places too?

“I think creation is always usually borne out of destruction and vice versa. I think they feed each other,” says oil painter Luke Anderson.

Writer Ammon Medina agrees: “I have to write two hundred words to find fifty that I like.”

Luke says after he finishes most of his paintings, they’ll sit for a few months or a year. Then he reconsiders them. “I’ll either totally paint over it, or remove the canvas and start over completely new. Or I’ll tear it off and actually cut the canvas into multiple different mini compositions and create new paintings from that destruction.”

“Yeah I think any act of creation is an act of destruction,” Ammon says. “If you look at the canon there are thousands of stories that are told throughout history about white men, right? And in those stories the stories of women are being destroyed, the stories of people of color are being destroyed. In that creation we’re excluding—we’re destroying—other creations of narrative that we’re not giving space to. In my poems, I’m writing about my past and I’m seeing it in a way that maybe my mother will have a different memory of. So even my creation or construction of that is excluding or, perhaps, as it’s published and more people are reading, kind of destroying other people’s memories of those moments.”

I’ve been reading a lot about creativity lately. Everybody has different ideas: Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist, says to jump in, that you’ll figure it out as you go. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a magical concept of an ideaverse, where ideas float around and attach to you in an effort to collaborate.

And all of this—everything I’ve read lately about creativity—feels really familiar. That’s because before I read Kleon or Gilbert, I read Julia Cameron.

She wrote a book back in 1992 called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. The premise is that we’re all creative people, and that creativity is a natural flowing force. All we have to do is unblock the flow. In the book, Julia Cameron outlines a set of activities and exercises toward this unblocking aim. I see the influence of The Artist’s Way in pretty much every book I read now about creativity.

And so I wanted to know what Julia Cameron thinks about whether creativity and destruction make each other.

“I think an alert attention is integral to creation,” says Julia. “And that may sometimes mean that we come across something that needs to be deconstructed in order for us to go forward.”

Julia Cameron thinks of the creative flow as a spiritual experience. “I think when you work with Artist’s Way tools, you are put in touch with a benevolent force. You begin to have a sense of optimism and a feeling that maybe what we’re doing is supported by a benevolent force. And some people call that god.”

I point out that in many different religions, God can be a pretty destructive force: the Old Testament God, several Hindu gods. I ask her then what the relationship is between God’s destructiveness and God’s creative benevolence.

“Well, I think the destructiveness is always moving us in a good direction, even though it doesn’t always seem like it,” Julia says. I ask her what she means. “I mean that there’s always a silver lining, which we need to learn to be alert for.” Then she says that this is an unusual interview, that she doesn’t focus much on destruction.

But why DO our stories about God…or a god, or the gods…have this duality between creation and destruction?

You know, like black holes. Creative, destructive, somehow outside the bounds of space and time, and seemingly outside the limits of moral interpretations.

And then I started reading about a goddess who embodies all of this.

Kali is a Hindu goddess. Her name means time, or force of time. She’s a mother and a wife and a nurturer. But also, in stories she is the decisive one, the violent one, the one who won’t be controlled. Folks call upon her to help them in the battlefield. Space and time don’t apply to her: she’s always existed and always will. Things that are usually nonnegotiable—qualities like good and bad—are irrelevant when it comes to Kali.

Vrinda Dalmiya is a feminist philosopher at the University of Hawaii. She writes about the poetry of Ramprasad Sen, a Kali worshipper who lived in the 1700s. Dalmiya describes how Kali is portrayed in Ramprasad’s poems.

A naked and intoxicated female—dark, bloodstained, and disheveled—dancing on the prostrate body of Shiva, her husband, with her tongue lolling out, wearing nothing except a garland of human heads around her neck, a girdle of severed human hands around her waist, and infant corpses as earrings. Yet, strangely enough, the devotee sees in this macabre picture an “impossible beauty” and a “mother.” The mother here is anything but domestic and anything but nurturing.

Dalmiya says Kali could be read a few ways: she might be as terrifying as she is because of male fear of female sexuality; or she might be feminist, “a mother who is not afraid of stepping out of the conventions of motherhood to express herself—her rage and her needs.” Mostly, Kali is divine contradiction.

But thinking about Kali led me to wonder about mothers here on Earth.

Think of a really good mother…nurturing, comforting, loving.

But if artists and Kali—both creators—are destructive, aren’t mothers, too?

You could argue that mothers are the most literally creative people that exist: they make other humans. They make ourselves.

And if someone has the power to give life, can’t they also destroy it?

(To be clear: I’m not talking about a bad mom who neglects or abuses a kid. I’m talking about good moms.)

I think Kali can help us think about the way mothers are destroyers.

Kali is nature: birth and decay all at once. She is change itself.

Here’s more of what Dalmiya says:

Whatever (or whoever) is associated with nature—women, indigenous cultures, emotionality, sexuality—is consequently perceived as being in need of control and ultimately is appropriated and owned. In an attempt to overcome death, man has sought self-definitions in forms that deny his embeddedness and necessary dependence on nature (the realm of death and decay).

Basically, attempts to control nature are attempts to control death.

Mothers ARE nature. In creating life, they are inextricably implying death: life begets death.

If you birth somebody, you set them on an inexorable path to death.

Kali is a storm of contradictions. Maybe it’s because she embodies the space where death and life define each other. So do black holes…and maybe artists and mothers.

So for the final part of this series, we’ll hear a story about a woman who found life in death. And her story ties all of this together. Check out Part 3 now.

– Erin Jones

Cover photo
Painting ‘Out of the Inferno’ by Luke Anderson

Music Credits
Balloons Rising by A. A. Aalto is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License
CGI Snake by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Red Shore by Artem Bemba is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

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