Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are There Ephemeral Arts Anymore ?

When I first started making art, I heard artists speak about the importance of art preservation. It seemed important to know about such as things as archival paper and museum-quality framing. It was as if all artists must prepare work to withstand the forces of time.

Yet, for years there have been artists (and cultures) who considered destruction or deterioration part of the art as a significant to the experience. These artists do not regard their creations as static permanent objects.

Tibetan Buddhists use the Mandala sand paintings to teach impermanence. Australian Aborigines paint leaves and tree bark with mythological figures of the Dreamtime. Navajo medicine men make sand paintings as a portal between the sick person and healing spirits. There are face and body paintings made for war, attraction or celebration.

Nowadays, most of us have received emails of astonishingly beautiful and ephemeral art made with sand, ice, chalk or henna. That record prompts a question: In this time of recording in photographs and video, is art truly ephemeral?


  1. Hmmm. Interesting point. I'm not sure. I guess it depends on intention. Jesse

  2. Andy Goldsworthy! If you don't know him, you really should. He makes both permanent and ephemeral art that is fabulous. (The library has a
    great documentary about him called Rivers and Tides.)Rach

    1. Hi Rach,

      He was started me thinking about it. Yes, his nature art disappears over time, but he sells his photographs of it. So, is it ephemeral?

    2. But it's not the same, in my opinion. We can get the idea of the art
      that is now gone, but it's not the same as experiencing it in person.
      I love Rivers and Tides and have watched it several times, but seeing
      the video of his art going away is not the same as having experienced
      it in person. Sort of like seeing a photo of the Mona Lisa is not
      like experiencing it in person (which I have not). So, it sort of
      preserves an impression of the art, but not the art itself. Rach

  3. Sooo, do Snow Angels count? Huh huh? Di

    1. I suppose they would if they weren't photographed. You are delightful!

  4. Lots of art goes away with time, or tide, in the case of sand sculptures. Even the ancient stone and marble art wears away. A photo or video record of art isn't art, in my opinion. My art won't last forever, and a photo would never provide the tactile experience. sz

  5. I would think it impermanent if the art were to disappear w/o some kind of
    documentation that it ever existed, but there's a gray area, don't you
    think? I mean, is it FAIR to document it? Shouldn't we have to be there in
    person to observe it before it was swept or washed away?

    What if the Mona Lisa was destroyed in a fire? Would the video and photos
    make it an impermanent Mona Lisa or is that cheating? The Mona Lisa exists,
    once it is destroyed, we can't see the canvas, brush strokes, or touch it
    (should we). When I've said "photos just don't duplicate the experience..."
    I think it's true, but then again...hmmm. Very thought provoking for those
    of us who's brains don't stop working (hardeharhar).

  6. It's an provocative question for me because I struggle with the ability to let go of anything, from relationships to momentos to parts of craft projects that didn't work out... and just now I "got" why the Tibetans do sand paintings... That is a great way to practice letting go.

    1. Yes, it is. Make something with the full intention of creating something beautiful and then letting it go. After all, it's only an ephemeral medium - sand.

  7. The ephemeral really touches me. Loved that you included the sand art.