Opinion: Art Is Perspective.

(N.B. This was originally a Facebook note I wrote earlier today. That’s all.)
I’ve had a question going around in my head for the last week, since the Olympics began: “Is sport art?”

But then I wonder, what is art, really? Art is not always something that is beautiful – Goya’s “The Third of May” is a horrific sight, but is certainly art; art is not always something that makes you think – take at the works of Miro or that of the Dada movement, which aren’t supposed to make you think at all.

But there’s something about sports that brings derision – that brings friction between sport and art. Some people claim, “Sport can’t be art because sport is a business.” To this, I do not debunk that sports is a business, for it is – it’s always been, in one way or another, a business, and that continues today. (I imagine that the ancient Olympians had great endorsement deals on olive oil.) But art has always been a business, to – virtually all of the works of the Renaissance would not be possible without private patrons providing funds for them, making it all political. Even the earliest musicals were written for the purposes of getting that huge gate.

Others claim, “Sport can’t be art because sport caters to the lowest common denominator.” To an extent, this can be debunked – simply put, training for half of the sports in the Winter Olympics ain’t cheap – you don’t see many members of the lower and working class luging or curling. And yet, there’s something in this claim that is to be embraced. Art often caters to the lowest common denominator – take the films of Laurel and Hardy, or the Marx Brothers; the music of Woody Guthrie; the paintings of the Ashcan School. Aristophanes constantly catered to the lowest common denominator – and yet he is seen today as the father of comedy.

So why can’t a coast-to-coast, breakaway goal by Alex Ovechkin – one deke, two, then a motorbike-kick before shooting top shelf – or a LeBron James slam dunk from the foul line, or even a Mike Piazza blast to heal a city not be art? It is beauty in performance, it can make one think – it can even make one feel. Art is perspective – and I don’t mean the ability in the visual arts to make a two-dimensional figure seem three-dimensional; I don’t mean trompe l’oeil. Art is seen as such, by those who want to see it as such – and, of course, by the artist – deriders be-damned. There is a reason why Pop art – paintings of Campbell’s cans and Brill-o boxes – is seen as art to some, the music of Frank Sinatra to others: we are not of a single mind. There is not, nor will there ever be, a single barometer for what is art, what is literature, what is music, &c.

Moral of the story: look both ways before you talk.


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