Chalk Artists and Pink Floyd

I have long been fascinated by the “creative process” of artists.  Perhaps my first encounter with a real artist came in the church of my youth.  Once every two or three years, my church would invite a “chalk artist” to perform in a Sunday evening service.  These artists would set up their large easels in front of the congregation before slowly drawing a scene from the Bible.  

The artists would talk as they drew, but I think for most of us, our attention was on the image slowly emerging before our eyes.  When the chalk artists had completed their work, the most dramatic moment would occur.  That was when the artists would turn on different colored lights that would make the scenes come alive.  

I’m sure that “chalk art” is considered cheesy, but for a young boy in the 1950s, this was as close as I got to being in the presence of an artist at work. I was spellbound.  

Recently, I was spellbound again as I watched a documentary about the creation of one of my favorite albums, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Featuring videos from the seventies as well as current interviews with the musicians, the documentary described the steps that went into the creation of each song.  In the process, the documentary offered insight after insight into creativity.  

One of those insights was hearing how a song from the album, one that would eventually run for five or six minutes, had begun when one of the musicians sat at a piano and played three—only three—chords.  It was like looking at a tiny seedling and then a mighty redwood.  

A second insight that the documentary offered was that creativity is often a group effort.  I was reminded of how often three or even four artists are credited with a song on an album cover or CD case.  Creativity must sometimes be like sparks flying when even the artists can’t remember who contributed which spark.    

But the most surprising insight into creativity came from David Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s lead guitarist and often lead singer.  Gilmour now looks more like a middle-school principal than the long-haired musician he was back in the seventies and eighties, and perhaps his comment about creativity reflects wisdom gained over the years.  

I know of a few fans of rock bands who, at one time or another, haven’t envied the lives of a favorite group.  Perhaps we envy their fame and fortune, or perhaps we envy their ability to live the creative life every day.   So it came as a surprise that David Gilmour, in looking back on “Dark Side of the Moon,” confessed to the envy of his own.  

He looked at the camera and, with obvious regret, said that what he wished for was something he could never have.  Because he was part of the album’s slow evolving, the seemingly endless tinkering that the musicians, the technicians, and the producers endured over months, if not years, Gilmour knew that he would never have the experience of listening to “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety and for the first time.  He envied those of us who had that privilege.   

When Gilmour said that, I thought back to the chalk artists who, in my youth, made the rounds of churches.  I’d assumed when they drew that last line, turned on the colored lights, and heard the oohs and ahs from those of us in the audience, that they felt the same joy as we did.  I now realized, sadly, that they probably felt more relief that they’d pulled the drawing off one more time.   

But perhaps that is a final insight the documentary offered.  Artists are not only creative, but generous.  They toil for years to offer moments of awe and wonder for others, feelings they may rarely experience themselves. 

While I’m sure I’m the first person in human history to combine chalk artists and Pink Floyd in the same sentence, I do so to say “thank you” to them and all artists, from the cheesiest to the most profound, for creating moments that the rest of us will never forget.