Gospel Chalk Art: For Such a Time as This?
- Friday, November 29, 2013
“One picture is worth a thousand words.” So goes the old proverb.
While that adage may not always be true, it certainly highlights the power of visual communication. In 2012, we live in a culture dominated by visual media. If you don’t believe that, try an experiment. Take a walk down any city street or visit a public place and count how many seconds you have to wait before you see someone using a smart phone, tablet, or laptop.
You won’t have to wait long.
Our society is increasingly visually oriented, which may be why an “old” art form, Gospel chalk artistry, is making a comeback.
I’m glad about that. I’ve been a gospel chalk artist going on thirty-four years, and I’ve found it to be an amazingly powerful way to communicate the truths of God’s Word.
Gospel chalk art, also called chalk talk, chalking, performance chalk art, and chalk drawing, is an art form that has been around for a long time. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it often took the form of cleverly drawn line pictures. An artist would draw a picture and tell a story at the same time. Often, at the conclusion of the drawing there would be a “surprise.” Through clever manipulation of the lines, the artist could “transform” the picture into something totally different. This generally was the application or “punch line” for the artist/speaker’s message.
As the years passed, a greater range of colors became available and, ultimately, fluorescent chalks and black lights were added to chalk artists’ toolbox. Now it was possible for artists to create “invisible” pictures that remained hidden until a black light was turned on. Chalk art evangelists such as Karl Steele, Phil Saint, Esther Frye, George Sweeting, Ding Teuling, and a host of others used chalk art to touch many lives for Jesus Christ.
Chalk art ministry reached its zenith in the 1940s and 50s, but during the latter half of the twentieth century, materials became more and more difficult to obtain. This was largely because lecturer’s chalk and bogus paper, the chalk artist’s primary tools, were expensive to produce and had a very limited market. Companies stopped manufacturing the chalk, and it became almost impossible to purchase the paper in the large dimensions that chalk artists use. Even black lights became scarce after the psychedelic fad of the 60s and early 70s faded.
In the 1980s, when people asked me about the state of chalk artistry as an art form and ministry tool, I told them it was a dying art. Artists such as Ding Teuling, and later Matt Bowman, had stepped up to the plate and had begun hand-making regular and fluorescent chalk and selling paper, but because none of these items was sold in art supply stores, it was all but impossible to get supplies unless you already knew a chalk artist.
Enter the Internet.
The arrival of the Internet in the nineties was a game-changer for chalk artists. Because it was possible to network online and find suppliers with a simple Web search, chalk art began to make a comeback. Now with the advent of DVD-based instruction, more and more people are discovering chalk art as a potent means for sharing the Gospel.
How powerful? Consider this.
I spoke at a camp in the summer of 2010. The last time I’d been there was in the summer of 2000. At that particular camp, several teens who were now seniors came up to me and told me that they remembered me being the speaker when they were first- and second-graders. But what really impressed me was that they remembered specific details about the pictures I had drawn.
Another time I received an email from a young lady who is now an adult, working with the young people in her church. She told me that she had come to faith in Christ through a picture I had drawn at a summer camp. She also remembered the picture I’d drawn and said in her email, “I saw Christ through you.”
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