Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Art vs. Sport: Best. Idea. Ever.

As an art writer who's mused of late on the similarities and differences between contemporary art and professional sport, I was greatly cheered to see the Guardian's recent experiment in having their arts writers swap teams with their sports writers for a week or two. Here's some of the sports writers taking on shows from Louise Bourgeois to Tosca. And here's some pics from the arts writers covering sports events.

Now some people might think this is simple slow-news-summer clowning on the part of the paper. But I really enjoyed it.

One thing that came across to me is that first and foremost these people are writers, no matter what part of the paper their bylines are in. They look for ways to tell the story of art—good or bad, awkward or apt—in a way that makes symbolic and narrative sense. It would be a very different thing to have artists cover art or sport, or to have athletes do the same. In the end, perhaps writers are more alike to each other than they are to the people they cover.

Another thing thought this prompted for me was those ways that professional art and sport are similar: Both involve a select few people doing things for great sums of money that most people would do for free.

Both involve (or have originally involved at the amateur level) seeking a state of transcendence or flow. Both involve highly specialized skills that require indoctrination and observation to appreciate. Both have their mavericks and their grunt workers, their MVPs and their black sheep, their detractors and their rabid fans—in a word, their scenes. (I've noticed that in both fields I tend to gravitate towards the underdogs, the Paul Pierces (as pictured above) rather than the Kobe Bryants, the Allyson Mitchells rather than the Frank Stellas.)

On the end of difference, there are also many: I'm fascinated by the team orientation of sport as opposed to the individual orientation of art, for one. In watching more sports of late, I've also been amazed by how positive so many coaches are (not all, but many) and by the spirit of can-do which pervades the commentary around sport. When the score in a game starts to fall overly to one team or another, I'm tempted to walk away, to call it a done deal. But sport teaches the truth of "It ain't over 'til it's over," to a spirit of resistance and optimism that tends to be easily dimissed as oversimplistic naivete in the art world. (So much so that even if believing same is necessary to an artist's perseverance, any trace of this belief detected in their art can spell instant critical death.)

So why am on the art side rather than the sport side? Part of it, obviously, is indoctrination; I simply trained in this area. And part of it is the art world's openness to diversion and critique--sports, after all, is all about the rules and the hierarchies, about captains and coaches and loyalty to the method chosen from on high. Or at least that's the usual story. I know art has its rules and hierarchies too, for certain, for certain. And lord knows some coloured jerseys could at least help us keep track of all the factions sometimes. ("Guggenheim Go-getters" V-neck, anyone? "Matthew Barney Bruisers" tank top? My god, maybe it can't be all that far off.)


Anonymous said...

The Heresy of Zone Defense, in Air Guitar by Dave Hickey - 1997

There is really no such thing as a sport side and an art side - only play.

Anonymous said...

That was my comment above - I had to use a google/blogger name 'cause you only have google/blogger enabled!


Leah Sandals said...

Hey Jennifer... thanks for pointing that out about the comments... now I've got it fixed!

And thanks for the tip on Dave Hickey's b-ball essay, totally up my alley on this one!