Sand paintings, as created by Native American Navajo Indians, were not made to be an "art object," but rather were made as part of an elaborate healing ritual or ceremony. The artist, or in the Navajo context, the medicine man, would use naturally colored grains of sand, and pour them by hand to create these elaborate "paintings." Scroll down for more ...
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After the medicine man completed the sand painting, the person who needed the healing was asked to sit on top of the sand painting (scroll down to see a picture of this). The belief was that the sand painting provided a portal so that the healing spirits could come through the painting and heal the patient.
After removing the illness from the person, the healing spirits returned to the sand painting, and therefore the illness was believed to have been transferred over to - or was now contained within - the sand painting itself. So once the healing ceremony was over, the painting was destroyed in order to destoy the illness as well.
While one can find "sand paintings" that can be purchased as art works, they were clearly made to be art works for sale, since the paintings in healing ceremonies were destroyed as part of the ritual.
Here's a look at some more Navajo sand paintings, including an image of a girl sitting on top of a sand painting, presumably in the process of the healing ceremony. The figures in sand paintings are symbolic representations meant to tell a story in Navajo mythology. They might represent objects like the sacred mountains where the gods live, or legendary visions, or they illustrate dances or chants performed in rituals.