Onward and upward with the arts, but let’s consider this in a downer sort of way.
A few years ago, in Los Angeles during the height of the Occupy political movement, a protest broke out following a police crackdown on what normally seems a benign activity, sidewalk chalk drawings.
The 17 people taken into custody for an ensuing donnybrook contended their right to free expression had been squelched. Experts in California law said, well, not really.
Law enforcers, in that state at least, can serve as art critics with regard to things drawn on property belonging to others. Not fair, said the protesters, who pointed out that kids draw on sidewalks all the time.
Only on certain occasions would I advocate the arrest of children, such as when my grandsons don’t listen to the wisdom I’ve imparted. Usually, their work with sidewalk chalk finds them quiet, and I don’t want to discourage that.
All political applications aside, I believe sidewalk chalk to be a great invention. It gives rise to creativity. It instills a sense of the color palette. It teaches dimension and enhances motor skills.
Also, it’s cheap, more economical than an Etch-A-Sketch and the art just as easily wiped away.
Perhaps that would have resolved the constitutional question in Los Angeles, a well-aimed hose to wash down the concrete.
Some American cities have sidewalk chalk festivals, with visiting artists, tote-bag giveaways, People’s Choice awards and food trucks. Folks walk on the canvas every day. Might as well put it to another civic purpose.
Contrast this with the pavement fight currently underway in France.
An article in The Wall Street Journal last week described the work of a little known group of support personnel working with the Tour de France, the globally renowned bicycle race.
These folks are known as “Erasers.” Each morning, they rise early to travel the route of that day’s stage of the race. Their job is to scope out things drawn on the roadway, then paint over it.
Know this about bicycle racing: It is not the most spectator-friendly of sports.
A decade or so ago, the state launched a bicycle race called the Tour of Missouri. It attracted some top-notch racers, and St. Joseph got chosen as a host city. It proved a major undertaking and a nice tourism prize.
I worked myself into a position to watch, not far from the day’s finish line, and ... well, the racers looked more like wisps of colorful smoke than actual competitors. True, it was an exciting few seconds.
That said, something provocative or commercial or obscene on the street where I stood would have been easily captured on camera (and dispersed now through social media) by onlookers with time to kill while waiting for the onrushing blur.
The Tour de France, with a worldwide audience, does not want any televised entanglements with wayward messaging, so the “Erasers” do their best, including a specialized “Ambush” squad that deals with unauthorized advertising attempts.
Otherwise, workers try to keep mischief to a minimum. It is not for me to speculate why someone would trek to a mountain road in the dead of night to draw human private parts on pavement. Maybe my artistic side does not extend to that expression.
Or maybe it’s a cultural difference. After all, besides the Louvre, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and Rodin, what have the French really done for art?
Fortunately, “Erasers” only deal with a specific bicycle race. Let that be a lesson to American chalk artists ... keep it clean, kids.