Field Theory by Hadyn Green


The Undertaker is Hamlet

Is sport art? This is something I've been thinking about ever since I managed to shake my Olympic fever (only to have it replaced with an actual flu).

I'm not talking about the marketing of sport, nor about the analysis or commentary of sports. Just the presentation of human athletic ability.

If a man runs the 100m in 9.69 seconds is that art? What if he does it in front of an audience?

The answer obviously depends on how you define art and, to a certain extent, how you define sport. The definition of art I've always liked is the one put forward by Scott McLeod in Understanding Comics:

Art is anything you don't do to survive.

This definition is, like nearly all definitions of esoteric concepts, problematic. For a start it considers earning money to be something you do to survive, which means that any writer or musician or dancer or painter who makes money isn't considered an artist. Luckily this is a small group (he jokes).

For many sports it's easy to say they are some kind of art. Gymnastics (especially the rhythmic type) is already very close to dance. The same goes for ice skating and synchronised swimming. In fact you could say that they are all just types of dance that we score.

And is that the divide? Scoring? Saying that one performance is better than another? If so it's a pretty thin line. Film and music competitions are a dime a dozen. As are awards for painting, writing and sculpture.

But what about the big burly man-sports like rugby? There's none of your lesbian PC art there, mate. Or at least I'm sure that's what Sir Brian Lochore thinks.

To get better idea of the artistry involved in a game of rugby I would suggest watching a game of American Football where the elements of the sport are separated and clearly seen. Running, throwing, blocking, catching, tackling. Each requires pure technique, and in the American version of the oval ball sport each player is an expert in his one role. Every player is a chess piece. In this case the coach can be seen as the artist directing the pieces into place.

The images of sport have long been considered a type of art. Pictures of humans in their physical peak have been created for centuries, going all the way back to cave drawings. Sting enough of these images together and the moving pictures broadcast through our televisions become like movies.

And then there is that pursuit that clearly has a foot deep into the art pool: Professional Wrestling.

It has all the elements for good theatre: drama; comedy; romance; fantastic costumes; good guys; bad guys; music; and of course, conflict. As for sport it is very clear that, despite the unreality of the competition, the wrestlers really are very athletic. And as art forms go, wrestlers have as many fans as any actor.

Personally my answer to "Is sport art?" is "Sometimes". For me art resides with the artist. If an athlete is doing something strictly to make money, then they are not an artist (same goes for anyone in the music/writing/etc business). But if they are doing it for love or to entertain then, yes, sport is art.

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