What Is Live Painting?

Erik J.J. Goserud

Live painting is a form of visual performance art that is often improvised and spontaneous. Performances occur in front of spectators with crowds ranging from one person to hundreds of people. Usually considered a form of contemporary art, some of the most popular types are musical live painting and street art, which includes graffiti.

Graffiti can be a form of live painting.
Graffiti can be a form of live painting.

Musical live painting is rising in popularity among art and music communities. This involves a collaboration of live musical performance with live art being painted on the spot. Musical acts such as Cloud Cult in Minneapolis, MN, and the Art Brothers in Madison, WI, are known for being part musical performance and part live painting. As a band performs a musical number, an interpretative painter paints a canvas live on stage to the groove of the music. The painter is considered one of the band members.

Live painting happens frequently at street fairs.
Live painting happens frequently at street fairs.

Street art is another popular form of live painting. Street performers of all types make their art on sidewalks and streets that receive heavy foot traffic — they use a variety of tools from spray paint to traditional paints and charcoals. Street festivals are the best time to see a variety of live painters in action. Many of them will take requests and make art customized for the buyer. Street art is a traveling form of artistic expression that is a full-time job for some.

Graffiti is probably the most controversial form of street art as it damages private property in many cases. It can be considered live painting if there is an audience on hand to see the art being performed. Spray paint is the common tool of street graffiti artists, though there are multiple types of paint and endless styles when doing this form of live painting. Documentaries have been made to support graffiti as a proper art form due to the immense creativity expelled by some of the artists. Smart graffiti, or nonterritorial, graffiti, is rising in popularity and support from the general public.

Some cities have districts supporting street graffiti. Bogota, Colombia; Austin, Texas; and London, England; have neighborhoods where graffiti is a street art that gives the city its character. Sometimes, events are organized by a city council to have live painting done on a city wall. This will commonly commence a holiday or celebration of progress for the city. Few graffiti artists make monetary profits off their work.

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