Friday 17 August 2012

Art vs Sport

It's been a while since my last entry. As you may recall, a few weeks ago I was fully immersed in preparing for the Filberg Festival which turned out, as it has in the past, to be a wonderful event. While I was at the festival, the Summer Olympics were in full swing so each evening, after an exausting day, I'd sit in front of the television and catch up on the latest goings-on in London.

When I started this blog, I intended it to be a way to share my life as an artist. I pledged to myself that I'd never write anything controversial; I would just stick to the good stuff, the warm and fuzzy aspects of my experiences. However watching the Olympics while I was myself in the throes of what felt like an epic art event brought an irritating little thought to surface of my mind and it just wouldn't go away: Why do humans, at this time and place in history, have such a huge appreciation for sports achievements—so much so that we hold an incredibly expensive, wildly popular, massive international event to celebrate it—and yet when it comes to art, the level of public energy expended is, well, far less than Olympian standards? In my mind, the discipline and dedication of artist and athelete are comparable. I seem, however, to be in the minority. I've been mulling this over and here are my thoughts about the popularity of sport over art, in no particular order of significance:

1) Art is considered by many to be simply a pleasant pastime or hobby.
When I left my 9-5 job to pursue art full-time, many said "Oh, how nice that you can devote yourself to your hobby! But aren't you too young to retire?" My life as an artist resembles anything but a hobby or retirement. I have never worked harder. I spend long hours in my studio and I'm obsessed with art all the time. It's pretty much all I think about. I'm content with this state of affairs, actually happy! I may not be tirelessly training my body to be able to run the fastest or farthest, or swim, jump, dive, wrestle or cycle better than anyone else, or to take part in any other of those gruelling sports we watched with enthusiasm over the past couple of weeks. I do, however, work extremely hard honing my skills. I am completely dedicated to it.

2) People do not trust themselves to know good from bad when it comes to art; they are confused as to who the "winner" is and why. Unlike a race where there's a clear winner or a sport where there are goals scored or points deducted for certain wrong moves, figuring out what is "good" art is a mystery to most. Why does a seemingly simple painting of a red stripe (referring to a certain abstract painting acquired by the National Gallery of Canada some years ago at what many saw as an exhorbitant price) demand such high regard over the best efforts of a minor painter who toils tirelessly to perfect his/her craft, and whose work can be fully appreciated by even the most casual viewier? (Here I'm referring to any one of a number of artists I know.) It's hard for people to appreciate things they don't "get". And the art people often like best is viewed by the art establishment as insignificant. It seems that when the average person likes it, it's no good. Small wonder people are suspicious of it and, in general, lack enthusiasm.

3) Artists are often quiet loners who avoid the limelight. While this isn't always true, it's pretty common that artists have introspective personalities and can be more-than-a-bit reclusive (says I, who loves nothing more than a day alone in my studio). I can't for a moment imagine myself being interviewed for TV, Olympic athelete style, and chit-chatting away about all my hard work, my family's sacrifices, and my drive to be a winner. I'm just not that kind of person and art, somehow, isn't that kind of activity. It's far too personal. A few days ago, I had my own sort-of Olympic moment. A courier truck pulled up and signed over a box. What was in it? My first ever art trophy and accompanying prize (go to the Coloured Pencil Society of Canada website for more details). I sat on a bench in front of my house to open the package with my husband and collie as the only witnesses. It was perfect.

So what could an international Olympic-style arts event look like? I'm talking about the kind of event the average person could get enthusiastic about and root for their favourite artist in his/her chosen discipline. There could be plein air painting marathons, high-speed life-drawing, pot throwing, precision carving... all manner of interesting possibilities! Not too many team competitions, though, given the loner aspect of the vocation. And maybe instead of a medal ceremony we could recieve some sort of quiet accolades and then quickly get back to making more art which is, in and of itself, it's own reward.


  1. Great post Deb - controversial or not! I have often pondered the amount of money, publicity, and celebration we pour into sports vs the arts or other human interests and needs.
    I think you hit the nail on the head with your second point. We live in an adversarial society, in which there are winners and losers, and supposedly clear criteria by which to judge who wins and who loses. The arts have a certain subjective element which makes it difficult for the average Joe or Jill to determine who should get the prize, though many of us "know what we like". I will always prefer visual art that is 'real' (vs abstract) but nonviolent, music that is calming and/or happy (vs dark, loud, aggressive), books that are fairly easy to follow, well written according to traditional standards of punctuation and grammar, and .... on nice paper, not a screen! So I have a hard time understanding the judging of many of today's arts-oriented competitions.
    Still, I'd sure like to see less money and attention given to sports and more to the arts. Ultimately, I think the arts have the greater potential for enhancing our lives. A work of art can bring pleasure to one (or to many!) for thousands of years; a sports competition is over in a flash.

  2. Great thoughts Deborah, definitely your introspective personality has spent some time thinking about this, and come up with a creative idea!
    Elaine Watts

  3. What a provocative post Deb!

    I love fine original art, far better than the Olympics, be they winter or summer, Vancouver or London, however I certainly spent more hours viewing the Olympics than art in the past couple of weeks and I'm now reflecting on this.

    So glad your hard work as an artist has finally resulted in a well-deserved first place trophy, and how touching that your husband and Collie shared the "gold medal" moment with you!


  4. Hi Deborah, great writing and congratulations on winning this top honour for your exceptionally Fine Art drawings!! yeah! I like what you wrote about art being it's own reward. Possibly the introspective view we share as artists (those of us that are constantly distilling) both informs and takes satisfaction in these pursuits, realized. Lovely. It would be good if monatary support for the arts were as great as it is for sport. To bring interesting community events that were as well attended and beloved as competitive sporting events are, would really be something. The dichotomy of the public view does make for some intersting questions about human qualities. Love your work!
    Warm regards,

  5. Well done. I'm currently trying to persuade a sports and wellness academy to see the merit in creative movement for children, and your entry boils down my gut feelings to a readable and concise thesis.