Art and Athletics

Discobolos by Myron image courtesy of

At times there are gaps where I can not sit still to write. I take to the outdoors as long as the sun will shine enjoying my athletic pursuits while dust gathers on my books, notepads, and computer. I find myself constantly battling and balancing my impulse to be outside cycling, hiking, and running to sitting at my desk absorbed in thinking, reading, writing, and creating. Although, the outdoors is my studio that fuels and develops many of my creative ideas.

There is beauty in both art and athletics. After all, the body, posed, was used in studio art for many artists. Michelangelo’s David, a potent symbol, personifies youthfulness, vitality, strength, courage, beauty, and athleticism.

Like many others, I watched with awe as records were made during the 2012 summer Olympic games. I cheered with great enthusiasm for the world’s incredible athletes as they performed at their personal best. For me, the games provided inspiration to strive for goals while challenging my physical limits.  I took to the outdoors as long as the sun would shine. I’ve considered my two worlds of athletics and arts as opposing. A hike with a friend made me realize a connection between my all-consuming sporting life, my love for nature, and art.

This friend, who is a visual artist and an art professor, complained about the lack of funding for arts compared with the financial support for athletics in our universities. She stated that an enriched education in the arts is far more valuable than athletics.  Art teaches more valuable life lessons than sports, she said. Art teaches how to see beyond the superficial. Art teaches “problem-finding” and problem solving. Art teaches to look at problems from many angles. She did not see the value in athletics.

As I my blog is evidence, I value and support the creative process and artistic pursuits; yet, I also value sports. I know many important life lessons resulting from participating in athletics; such as how to collaborate as a part of a team, how to lose graciously and pick yourself back up for the next challenge, and athletics teach grit, perseverance, and discipline. It takes focus, commitment, and endurance. It requires planning for adverse weather conditions and withstanding them.

We esteem those with phenomenal athletic abilities. They are our heroes. Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant, Lance Armstrong (maybe not so much anymore), Michael Jordan, Steffi Graf, and Martina Navratilova, are all household names. So are Picasso, Rembrandt, Warhol and Georgia O’Keefe.

I wonder do we also see artists as our heroes? Are as many people inspired to artistic pursuits as they are to athletic pursuits or is aspiring to be artistic an eccentricity? I also wonder why it appears that schools place more value on athletics than art.  Is this accurate? Does our society undervalue creativity or intellectualism and over value athleticism? Universities do build big stadiums for their athletes to compete in and for their multitude of fans to come watch their team with pride. Generously funded collegiate athletics are a profit-making system. It’s a moneymaking venture, fueled by television contracts, team paraphernalia, and ticket sales. Wealthy sports fans make large charitable donations to schools in support of their athletics, and schools competitively recruit promising athletes. Team spirit and athletics are embraced as part of Americana.

On the other hand, art patrons will support university art museums either in donating art or making large cash contributions. These art museums also create revenue from gift shop purchases, membership and ticket sales. I wonder if these revenues both for sports and arts go into the programs, for scholarships, or directly into running the stadiums and museums.

I have expressed my reasons I think athletics are important and I would also add maintaining a healthy lifestyle as an important benefit. I do not contradict my friend in her reasons for supporting the arts in universities. I agree. In addition arts education exercises and develops critical thinking, which calls forth analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Arts and athletics provide a universal language that connects all people and cuts across social-economical, racial, educational, and cultural barriers.

I believe that both art and athletics are equally important in our society and our schools for developing a strong character and a well-rounded person; both offer invaluable life lessons.

Some artists find inspiration from athletics and sports. The following artists’ works create a narrative that speaks to the praise (and ridicule) of athletic strength, endurance, and excessiveness (both the creative imagination and leisurely physical pursuit requires the luxury of time and an absence of stress).

The artist, Matthew Barney, a former high school football star quarterback, whose fame in the art world arose from his Cremaster series in the late 1990s. He began his exploration of masculinity and physicality in his Drawing Restraint series where he jumps, lunges, stretches, and pushes against obstacles in a self-created self-restraint system in order to make markings on the walls which record evidence of his physical, near-futile efforts. These marks are symbols of overcoming hindrances and serve as a metaphor for living.

Matthew Barney, Drawing Restraint 2, 1998 image courtesy of

Russell Crotty, an artist, amateur astrologer, an accomplished surfer, and a rock climber has brought his passions into his art practice. They support and balance each other, one not existing without the other. His drawing practice takes the form of journalling in a series of surf portfolios.

Surf Works from 1988-2008

Jennifer Allora and Guillerermo Calzadilla are art collaborators and life partners. They were selected to represent the United States in the 2011 Venice Biennale. “The Venice Biennale happens once every two years and is the closest approximation to an international sporting event the art world has.” states art writer, Paddy Johnson. The two created Gloria, which consisted of six installations employing sculpture and American Olympic athletes. The following video is on ‘Track and Field’ a sculpture consisting of an over turned army tank and a treadmill. The works in the exhibition, in an excessive and absurd manner, are all about excess, exhibitionism, competiveness, and commodity fetishism. ‘Track and Field’ in particular, in a humoristic way, conjures up a relation between the Olympic games, the military, and the body that relates to the American’s ignorant and over-dominant egoism.

Allora and Calzadilla, Body in Flight 2011. image courtesy of

Speaking of desire and physicality as Mathew Barney explores, and absurdity and excess revealed in Allora and Guilleremo’s work, the Russian collective AES + F bring these themes together in their fantastical creation titled, ‘The Feast of Trimalchio’ inspired from  ‘Satyricon’ by Petronius. In their creations the artists consider peoples relation to environment and situation, thus revealing human’s vulnerability and prejudices. In ‘The Feast of Trimalchio’ they refer to the Roman Saturnalia ritual of the master/slave reversal through contemporary excessive rituals of sports, leisure, and pleasure.

AES + F, The Feast of Trimalchio Panorama #3, 2009. image courtesy of

AES + F, The Feast of Trimalchio video still 2009. image courtesy of

Alex Israel works with cliches and stereotypes of LA culture, particularly the beach and surf motifs complete with palm trees, sunglasses, and a self portrait of himself in the form of a surfer’s wetsuit.

Alex Isreal

Often, especially in high school, jocks and artists don’t mix. These artists creatively unite the two spheres. Arts and athletics integrate the mind, body, and spirit.

Farewell to summer’s great heat and welcome to the crisp golden autumn days and the cold, drizzly weather where I can come back inside, pursuing more reading and writing.

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