Santa Barbara’s Chalk Festival reminds us to celebrate our sense of creative play.
We’ve all done it. It usually starts in Kindergarten, when someone bogarts a teacher’s pack of chalk from her blackboard. Sidewalk sketches emerge within minutes, and kids begin writing silly messages or blocking out squares for an impromptu game of hopscotch. No matter how the markings looked, chalk was fun. You could count on it.
As we grow older, we leave the street and get way more serious about where we write or draw. Typically, we settle into our grownup lives and (unless we choose art as a career) we kiss our chalk sticks goodbye. Well guess what. It’s not only possible to recapture the joy of creating something spontaneously in a public space, it’s actually healthy for you.
Research shows activities like painting, sculpting, drawing, and photography that can lower your stress levels and leave you feeling mentally clear and calm. The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same day in, day out. 80% of them are negative. Studies show — if you immerse yourself in something positive and calming — you can reverse those thoughts. (Read more from the Cleveland Clinic here.) You may actually find yourself in what’s known as “the zone” or in a state of “flow.”
That’s exactly what happened to me at the “I Madonna Italian Street Painting Festival” in Santa Barbara this weekend. I got so excited seeing all this great work blanketing the grounds of the historic Santa Barbara Mission, that I just had to jump in. Totally irrelevant that the art surrounding me was a near match for some of the most famous Renaissance portraits and landscapes ever. What mattered was the experience, not the product. And okay, the place designated for freestyle drawing was called “Kids’ Corner.” Whatever.
By the way, it’s not just me. I’m pretty sure “the lure of the chalk” is universal. They guy you see here on the right (Pic #4) is not a street artist, his name is Dr. Jann Kaminski and he’s a local physicist. Google him and you will see scholarly articles like: “Principal Pilot Line Manufacturing challenges and solutions in Direct Fabrication of a-Si:H TFT Arrays on Flexible Substrates.” Whaaaaaaaat? I have no idea what any of that means, but I’m fairly sure chalk is not involved. Nonetheless there he was — the only genius I know personally — up to his elbows in chalk dust.
This is the 30th year the city of Santa Barbara celebrates “I Madonna Italian Street Painting Festival” with its sister festival in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy. I’ve assembled some of my favorite images below.
“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” — Pablo Picasso