Short-Lived Beauty: Variation in Ephemeral Art

Ephemeral art has such a lusty appeal as a result of its short lifespan. Many will grasp at it while they watch it dissipate and crumble in their fingertips. It comes in many different mediums with many different intentions — the allure only growing when being captivated by a particular artist or meditative practice. The wish for a piece to stay for just a bit longer — to be able to take in the scene for one more moment — speaks to the artist’s ability to play on our emotions and invoke the feelings of desire for wanting more.

Sensational Art

Art installations within museums and galleries have the opportunity to craft well-thought out art pieces that can deliberately speak to one or many of our senses. Sound art, where a speaker correlates with what you are seeing, can stir different mental images and remain in your mind long after the sound has gone away. The use of flashing lights, something that can cause physical responses, such as focal seizures or our heart to race, is a fleeting moment in time captured by the artist. Flower arranging has a long history and uses scent, color and texture to lure in audiences. Sensations are powerful artistic tools to invoke a long-lasting effect when creating ephemeral pieces.

Spiritual Art

Buddhists monks have used a form of ephemeral art called a mandala as a means of meditation, prayer, as well as storytelling. Commonly, they are created with colored sands and take days to be completed, with the help of multiple sets of hands. The figure of the mandala includes geometric patterns and religious symbolism.

Buddhist monasteries are the origin of the mandala which they brought with them in their travels as a blessing and gift to other parts of Asia. There are three layers to the mandala — the outer that represents the divine, the inner which represents enlightenment and the secret layer which is the held by the creator(s). Sand mandalas can be swept away and destroyed with the whisk of hand or a heavy sigh, representing the impermanence of our lives on earth.

Spoken Word

Unless recorded, all words spoken dissipate into the ether. It can be argued that any words spoken can be portrayed as a work of art. Those that are deliberate in their word choice, such as slam poets, storytellers and singers, employ themselves to master their craft. Although you may remember the words that were heard, that precise moment of hearing them will only live in the experience. The artists compose a fleeting moment of engagement with their listener, hoping to speak to the recesses of the mind reserved for perception of beauty, leaving behind only a memory.

Street Art

Street art can be found in the most unlikely of places, while others are created with the intention of being noticed by all that pass by. Graffiti artists display their work on the sides of trains that will disappear down the tracks, perhaps to never be seen in the town of the art’s origin again. They paint the sides of buildings, knowing that they will inevitably be covered up by a thick layer of single-color paint. Art installations made of shopping carts, pieces of nature, or found items will all be dismantled by time, weather or people.

In China, stories are told along the sidewalk involving characters painted with water that quickly evaporates, engaging spectators for the length of a poem, a chapter, or a tale’s length of time. The appeal of this art, no matter how it is judged by the audience, draws attention for only the limited amount time and place the artist intended for it to be allowed to exist.


No single dance can ever be repeated. The movements can be replicated by the same original performer — however, each dance is always different from the next. Some dancers believe that dance is the only true form of art in the present moment. The body becomes the instrument which creates art that is gone the very second after it has taken place. Much like the other forms of art that are short-lived, the question remains: Do we love it as a reaction to its fleeting nature?

From sand castles to food art, ephemeral art contributes short-lived beauty to our existence. The artists are kind enough to gift us an experience to cherish just for that moment. Some artists, such as Banksy’s recent shenanigans, will go to great lengths to ensure their art is never procured to be revisited for longer than originally intended.

Photo Credits

Street Art – pxhere CCO Public Domain

Mandala – Vivian Evans on flickr – some rights reserved

All other images are pixabay creative commons

Guest Author Bio
W.M. Chandler

W.M. Chandler is a Colorado native and works best with her head in the clouds. She is an avid researcher and enjoys writing about unfamiliar subjects. She writes passionately about nature and the outdoors, human connections and relationships, nutrition and politics.

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