Thursday 24 July 2014

Of Art and Sports

Chorus Line
photo collage

As a youngster, I had two loves: making things with my hands and being physically active. In indulging the former love, my great joys were drawing, modeling clay into fantastic forms, making articulated figurines out of paper and creating stories which I would enact for my dolls, a very appreciative audience. To indulge the latter love, I danced as often and in as many ways as I could, I swam like a fish, I bicycled everywhere I was allowed to, and I played first soccer for which goalie was my favourite position, basketball and then volleyball with a killer serve.
In studying to become a better artist while simultaneously practicing to become a better player, I was struck by the similarities between the two activities, art and sports.To create an image, I had to think about the page from edge to edge, to think of it much as I was told to think of a soccer field. When I decided where to put each detail of a drawing - in a drawing of ‘home’ for instance, say a house, a couple of trees, two dogs and my brother trying to fly a kite -  it was little different from when I studied the positions of players on the field. The better the composition of the elements in my drawing, in other words, the better the details interacted to animate the page, the better a drawing it would be, just as the better a player worked to move the ball over the field in concert with other players, the better the game. 
When I kicked a ball toward a goal during a soccer game, or bounced it off my head to deflect it course, when I scoped out another player’s position and prepared to pass or receive the ball, or when I ran across the field to intercept an opposing player and claim the ball, my thinking process was no different than when I pushed graphite and rubber along page to create lines, when I ran crayons across a shape to give it volume, or when I moved clay from hand to hand to give it form. This is what gave me the greatest joy - I felt that what I learned doing one led me to better understand and control doing the other: making art made me a better player because I played the game like I was creating a composition, and sports made me a better artist because I became more agile and had more stamina.
There were even better prizes for doing both activities at the same time. 
Making things in three dimensions with materials like clay and paper, making stories with words, making shapes and rhythms in space with my body and even making noises (hopefully music) with my voice made me feel really connected with world around me. As an individual, as a ‘me’, I could respond to what I saw, express what I felt, see the result of my actions and the manifestations of my ideas in concrete ways. And if I got to show to and in that way share these things with others, my existence was confirmed, whatever their response. I also understood that by my looking at other peoples’ creations, they  became more present for themselves and for me as well; they became part of my imaginings and ideas.
On the other hand, swimming, never alone in the ocean but on crowded beaches, bicycling with my friends and playing sports gave me a sense of communal movement not just in space, but also in time, I moved harmoniously with my friends and therefore acted collaboratively in my society. I belonged, because even if my fellows spoke other languages or lived by different codes, we covered the same territory, experienced similar sensations and played by the same rules.
That understanding led me to the conviction as an adult that thinking about and making art and thinking about and participating in sports are essential, interrelated forms of human activity, essential for human development. While they have different ends, they develop and share interconnected aspects of the mental, or conceptual, apparatus. A game is composed of a series of actions played out by a combination of fixed rules and responsive, improvised reactions on a fixed surface by opposing forces joining to create a challenging but satisfying experience. Creating a work of art is exactly the same, except instead of other players on the same team, the artist teams up with media and tools, and instead of members of an opposing team, the artist’s challengers are the problems she/he has to solve to compose a successful image.
Both these human disciplines, Art and Sports, practiced simultaneously at all ages, develop instincts, stimulate the senses, create skills and provide experiences that are essential for all other endeavours, from the simplest to the most complex. Without them, without a hands-on, problem-solving, actual, physical relationship to materials, tools, body and space, creativity becomes about reiteration, not invention, about money and profit, not about meaning and exchange, and mental flexibility gradually is replaced by single-minded dogmatism while physically, people become prone to a sedentary, non-participatory or only virtually participatory life-style. Without them, people are dulled down, reduced to their most basic functions, they are not elevated to their highest potential.

This is why I don’t believe that governments which separate pure art and sports education in schools, or that eliminate both altogether from the school curriculum are acting without malice.

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