Chalk Art: the Ephemeral Cousin of Mural Art

I first became aware of the artistry of outdoor murals when I started participating as a street painter in chalk art festivals. The term street painter does not refer to muralists… it quite literally refers to those of us who paint the street itself, eg the asphalt. With chalk. In the hot sun.

It’s grueling work, and people often exclaim, “Oh my goodness! What if it rains?”

My response to this is, Oh but it will rain. It’s only a question of when.

The whole idea of chalk art is based on impermanence. It’s actually all about the rain, when you think about it. Once, I was at a festival in Florida and I was placed in front of a very well-curated art gallery on the main square. When the festival started, hundreds of people started to flood the streets to come witness the annual “chalk art festival.” Hundred turned to thousands in a matter of hours. All of the little businesses along the street offered specials, sidewalk sales, and live music to draw in the event customers.

On this particular day, a group of ladies came to my square to admire the work I was doing. They asked the rain question. They said, oh, but if only you could shellack it to the street forever! I laughed and said, “No. If I did that you wouldn’t like it anymore. You only like it because it’s temporary.” They demurred, and said, “How do you know that?” and I replied, “Because I’m sitting in front of the art gallery. And you have walked by three times without going in there.”

It’s a sad fact. I am not bragging, or implying that street art is somehow better than traditional gallery art. In fact I sell my art in galleries too. But the very real fact is, galleries and their whole business model are becoming increasingly irrelevant in our world for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the pervasive role of digital images in our daily lives.

Chalk art is wonderful and gorgeous and thrilling because it is temporary.

Murals are fantastic because they make buildings into works of art, uniting communities around a common destination.

Chalk art festivals are a fantastic way to bring in the crowds. It’s a very low art form (pun intended! ha) and it draws together everyone from 3-year-olds—who are practitioners of this art form—to the snootiest of cultured adult viewers, and everyone in between.

Who knew you could do that with chalk?!

Shawn McCann