The Goodness of Impermanent Art

2 04 2014

As an artist, I often hear and read discussions pertaining to the archival qualities of one medium or another. Longevity is an important factor when making art with a capital “A,” but it is not necessarily always a critical consideration. I’ve found that I’ve begun to appreciate less permanent works, from the ephemeral to the last-a-few-decades stuff.


This sort of snuck up on me, so I figured I should ask myself what the heck happened. With the first buds in my perennial gardens beginning to open, I had my answer. I love flowers and annuals provide blooms for months on end, so why do I love perennials, with their much shorter floral displays, so much more?


When my hellebores are fading, the pulmonaria are ready for their close-up. When the clematis begin to fade, crocosmia begins to sing. Part of the charm is the change. There is joy in the beauty of the present and in the anticipation of what’s the next act. I think that’s why I have begun to enjoy less durable works of art. They are not intended to last forever, so there is the “live in the moment” excitement and the pleasant (and a little bit naughty) awareness that, as one work fades, there will be room to love another.


May I suggest – may I encourage – you to use some impermanent media in your studio. There is a freedom in making things that won’t hang around and haunt you for a lifetime. You and your muse can play with reckless abandon because there’s no long-term commitment. Working with things that fade, rot, or decay can reduce the seriousness of your work, which can give you a fresh outlook on your more important pieces.


I’m going to make some extremely ephemeral art this weekend. It will probably smell like chocolate chips. Miss Muse will work for cookies.



One response

2 04 2014
Sandra Schmitz

Love this post, Paula. I first encountered impermanent art with Japanese paper balls in gorgeous colors and patterns. It occurred to me that the reason I loved them so was their fragility, similar to flowers.

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