Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sports as Performative Art

Yes, I said it. Do I think it's true? Maybe. Do I think it is a point worth pondering? Definitely.

The literature I've come across has mentioned the idea a few times (mostly referred to by Richard Schechner) but I have yet to see a meaty analysis of the subject so wanted to try something preliminary myself.

Either way he makes a good point - sports can be argued to be a type of performative art. It captures one of the essential ingredients to art: that of a transformation of self and the accompanied visceral, inexplicable reaction to what one sees on the "stage" (field). It follows a set of codified improvisational rules that must be strictly followed and trained extensively within to execute to the best of their ability. If I had to put a name on it, I'd even say it was contact improvisation. The crowd affects the play of the game: if the crowd is disinterested, so too become the players; just as a captivated audience can cause a different kind of energy and take a performance to another level.

Of the same token, the more interested and more of themselves the players give to the game, so too does the audience. A symbiotic relationship of sorts.

However it is also not art: competition within art diminishes the performance. I mean to say a ballet competition will never really be viewed as art, perhaps because the mentality of the viewer is not focused on experiencing the work but rather picking out the technicalities within it. The experience is also extremely temporary when you watch sports - you may feel euphoric highs, but it's often gone by the next game. I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I've never had an art piece affect me deeply and then forgotten about it. It sticks with you.

As a disclaimer, I also don't know if my assumptions as to their temporary nature are completely true for sports, as I've never experienced it. Furthermore, not every work of art is going to make an imprint, just like not every game can do that as well.

What it does lack is the catharsis effect that's referred to by almost anyone who's written about aesthetics. When you go watch a play or a movie you may empathize with the characters, even cry with them - but afterwards you are refreshed, purged, and transformed. When a team loses, that same euphoric high the winning team has is matched by true sadness from the losing team and spectators. That frustration and loss sits with some people for days. This is probably my main issue with calling sports performative ART. It is performative something...but art...perhaps not.

I'm sure there are more reasons for and against but I'd really love to see someone attack it from an aesthetic point of view - psychologists have had their turn with the game and have spewed endless amounts on the mob mentality of it all...but I haven't seen much about the performers themselves. Billions of people daily hold their breath as 1-20 players of every kind of sport imaginable perform for them, their every move enticing and moving emotions, affecting their moods and their days to come. There is just way more to it than the crowd alone!

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