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What is Dust Art?

By James Franklin
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dust art is a form of art that simply uses common dust as the medium of expression. Household dust, outdoor dust or any form of malleable detritus is potential material for dust art. The works can be two- or three-dimensional, forming representational and abstract images.

Two-dimensional dust art is made using a variety of tools, including fingers, brushes and any pointed instrument that can create shapes and lines. Shading can be done by scraping dust away to reveal the surface beneath. Applying different pressure to areas of dust also helps provide a range of dark and light tones.

Texas dust artist Scott Wade has said he usually requires one to four hours to create a finished work. Dirty windshields are one of his favorite surfaces. Wade’s skill has enabled him to create dusty, detailed versions of such famous works as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Once completed, the 2-D dust art often will begin to change based on the surrounding conditions, and it can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Eventually, outdoor works of dust art will be swept away by wind and rain. This sort of art achieves longevity only when photographed.

Other artists mold masses of dust into fragile sculptures. British artist Paul Hazelton turned dust into tiny representations of objects such as human figures, skulls or insects. Hazelton said dust also serves a metaphorical purpose, providing intimations of death and decay. Some of these works are as small as a few centimeters in length and height; others are tall enough to reach a high ceiling.

Hazelton applies water to the dust to make it hold together, then carefully dries the piece once the sculpting work is finished. The artist also incorporates dust into multimedia works, lending a unique, nubby texture to two-dimensional images. He has used dust bunnies, arachnid corpses and refuse collected on furniture and window sills to build wispy but three-dimensional objects.

Dust art is different from more commonly seen sidewalk art, because dust art relies on found materials. Sidewalk artists commonly use colored chalk or pastels, both of which are traditional tools for drawing. Some art stores even sell a kind of chalk specifically intended for pavement. Cities such as New York frown on sidewalk art, often dismissing it as a form of graffiti. Like most dust art, sidewalk art is temporary and eventually is seen only in memory and photographs.

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Discussion Comments
By anon349427 — On Sep 26, 2013

Please forgive me for being a snob, but if it is not enduring, it is not art. It may be performed with great skill, and be very artistic, but art is an artifact of a culture, helping to define it. If you cannot tell a work of art from the detritus left behind by a civilization, then it isn't art.

On the other hand, the endurance, skill and perseverance of the artists themselves to perform this kind of artistry takes great stamina and patient repetition, and may be performed as if a prayer, or, literally, a performance.

I'm forever telling art students to work with better, more archival materials, so that they, like the great masters, may one day inspire countless generations.

To leave behind something more than dust is the very aim of art. And if I'm going to be blown away, I'd rather be blown away by Michelangelo's Pieta, than by a puff of wind. -- Jabbahdah.

By irontoenail — On Jan 23, 2012

Something similar to dust art is sand art. You can see videos of this on Youtube. It uses the same principals of creating shading and things using a substrate, but makes it even more temporary when the artist moves her creations around to tell a story.

I think it must take a very strong person to do this, or someone with a different mind set to mine. When I create something beautiful I think I am too proud to let it go, while these artists think nothing of allowing their creations to be destroyed.

By bythewell — On Jan 22, 2012

@croydon - It's also similar to spray can street art in that it stems from people putting up their initials or leaving messages.

It might be a far cry from people who write "clean me" in the back of a car, just like real street art is a far cry from a sprayed set of initials on a wall, but they are definitely influenced by those origins.

If you look up photos of dust art though, it's really amazing what people can do. It kind of makes me sad that it's only temporary.

By croydon — On Jan 21, 2012

Dust art seems very similar in some ways to street art, which is slightly more permanent.

I was watching "Exit Through the Gift Shop" the other day, which is a kind of documentary about street art and examines the different reasons people go into it.

One of the assumptions is that because it is generally temporary (since it is considered to be vandalism) that the artist is doing the work for the love of it, or perhaps to get a message across.

The documentary explored other reasons, like the adrenaline of doing something illicit, or even the financial rewards that can come now that it's a more commercially accepted art.

I can imagine, since dust art is even more temporary, that it would be even more about the art and less about the money.

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