On October 29th Mark Schubin will give a free presentation, as part of National Opera Week, at Neil Scherer’s Going Going Gone Sports/Art Gallery, about baseball and opera. Apparently there are various common threads between these divergent spectacles and Schubin will try to draw parallels. Everyone is invited (7pm) but it might be a good idea to give Neil a call to RSVP at 646 285-1497 or you can email him at email@example.com.
So this brings us to Scherer’s Gallery and the question of whether ‘sports’ can be the grist for ‘art’. Basically Scherer has been dealing in American paintings (and has a selection of these at his Atrium location) but his biggest passion became his quest to present what most folks would call sports memorabilia in a more aesthetic manner. So Scherer focuses on a theme – like the 1961 Yankees – and then goes about trying to obtain the most meaningful things (photos, ephemera) available on the market to present something coherent about this sports theme. He might have signed photos with ticket stubs, small flags, programs or even paychecks that players signed. At Atrium Public Space people freely wander into the gallery and seem to enjoy looking at the large, framed works of ‘sports art’. You can see a few samples of his work (in regard to baseball) here.
So I started thinking and I realized that the competition involved in team sports is a type of struggle which really lends itself nicely to allegorical or artistic interpretation. Team sports are all about creative movement in restrictive space toward a type of consummation or liberation against resistance. The defense represents a type of inertia to be overcome by the offense through deception, force or creativity. The offense represents (to the defense) a type of chaos to be minimized or controlled. Every sport has its symbolism, every game becomes a Zoroastrian battle, every player is a type of wizard/shaman.
In baseball, the pitcher merely wishes to throw a white orb 81 times over a pentagon comprised of a rectangle and triangle in 9 equal sequences. Inexplicably, a guy stands next to the pentagon with a stylized tree bough to interfere with this (nefarious? diabolical?) process. This necessitates the creation of an ever expanding field of two geometrical rays from the points where the triangle and rectangle meet, and the field becomes populated by pitcher surrogates (teammates representing the pitcher). The pitcher must complete his arcane labor through mixing pitches of different speeds and styles, the batter must not let the pitcher succeed in allowing the orb across the pentagon too often and must deal with the duplicity of the pitcher’s attempts to get the orb over the pentagon. The best hitters are the ones who most thwart the pitcher’s goal. The batter, obviously, sees something problematic about an orb crossing a pentagon, and attempts to prevent this as forcefully as he can. Initial interference becomes an element of control as the batter attempts to direct the ball into open spaces, hopefully beyond the wall created to stop the expansion of the geometrical rays. During this chaos of a bouncing, uncontrolled ball (which has been prevented from crossing the pentagon), movement, action and progress can occur.
In football the quarterback must learn to properly control a prolate spheroid as it travels through space toward another surrogate. The quarterback must put the proper spiral on the prolate spheroid to minimize wind resistance and ensure forward progress. The quarterback strives for perfection with each pass in a battle against the element of air itself. The prolate spheroid must be carried or caught beyond a threshold against gargantuan resistance, prompting Odyssean strategies. The goal for the offense is to move the prolate spheroid through space, beyond a threshold, which will suddenly end all resistance and allow for a gleeful display of relief and community celebration often begun by contemptuously flinging the prolate spheroid forcefully into the ground. As Gayle Sayers once said, “Give me 18 inches of daylight, that’s all I need.” The goal is finding this ‘daylight’ which facilitates movement toward the goal, through all resistance toward a consummation
Did you know that in basketball, players, initially, were not allowed to dribble? Basketball had been a game of merely passing the ball until one got close enough to the basket to shoot. Players moved through space, found a position, received the ball and then either continued passing or shot. Did you also know that shooting a rubber ball through a hoop to the ancient Aztecs was highly symbolic and they believed their ball games aided the passage of the sun through the sky? In any case, bouncing the ball to facilitate movement was the chief symbolic innovation in this modern game. What does dribbling represent symbolically? Oh come on! OK, I’m not sure either, but I guess you can contrast the pounding of the ball against the earth (wooden floor) with the sailing of the ball through a metallic hoop. You pound the ball until the ball can sail in a controlled and directed manner toward a goal. Does that make sense? Sorry, that’s the best I can do. So you can move the ball only by passing it and pounding it continually against the earth and the consummation comes from placing the ball through the abstract two dimensional figure from which a sphere originates when you roll one of the axes of the circle 360 degrees.
I guess you could go through all the team sports and find the common denominators – some type of geometrical object that has to be moved meaningfully in a controlled manner against resistance. Is this why people love sports so much, because of the underlying symbolism of overcoming resistance and achieving a victory of relief and liberation? Probably not.