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Aesthetics in Sport

Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport - 10.

Emily Ryall

on 20 April 2015

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Transcript of Aesthetics in Sport

Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport and Exercise
Dr Emily Ryall
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy

Lecture 10
Key questions:
Sport, Art and Aesthetics
Is sport art?
Does sport have an aesthetic value?
Art & Aesthetics
What is the difference?
a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty, especially in art
the branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste.
the expression or application of creative skill and imagination, especially through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture.
Important Distinction:
Although there may be some aesthetic features of sport, it does not mean that it is art.
Art should involve some
that it has a function in its being art, not simply that we

find something inherently pleasing about it.
Important Distinction:
Art does not necessarily mean ‘pleasing to the senses’
In the same way, aesthetic can mean the effect that something has upon the sensory organs
Art is used to simply evoke a sensory experience
In sports, aesthetic acclaim is reserved for economy and efficiency of effort.
The application of the term ‘aesthetic’ is generally used in conjunction with smooth actions.
"...he ran like a man with a noose around his neck. He seemed on the verge of strangulation." (New York Times)
Emil Zatopek
An aesthetically smooth running style doesn't necessarily translate into energy economy.
Is aesthetics important in sport?
What is the relationship between ‘aesthetic’ and ‘skilful’?
Ziff (1974):
there is nothing for philosophers to say about sport and aesthetics because aesthetics is not an essential feature of sport
Do we need to distinguish between the spectator and the participant?
Is Sport Art?
Three positions:
3. All sport is art (Mumford)
2. Some sport can be art (Cordner)
1. Sport is not and cannot be art (Best)
Sport is not Art
Best (1978)
Attacks latter (functional) view
Distinction: ‘evaluative’ (e.g. ‘he is an aesthetic athlete’) & ‘conceptual’ (the intent that it is an aesthetic work)
Confusion between aesthetics and art which leads to the conclusion that sport can be considered art.
Best’s (1978) Five reasons why sport is not art:
Subject Matter
Imagined & Real Objects
Principle Aim
Means / Ends distinction
Means / Ends:
Even performance sports have set criteria
How a goal is scored is irrelevant
In art the means and ends are indistinguishable, in sport the means and ends are separate (i.e. winning)
Principle Aim:
One can not sensibly ask what is the point of a particular piece of art because its whole purpose is inextricably linked with its existence.
The fundamental purpose of art is to be aesthetic. In sport, the aesthetic is secondary or incidental
In contrast, sport itself cannot reflect these issues. They are constrained by arbitrarily created rules and to break those rules is not to play the game.
The conventions of art allow for a conception of life
Imagined & Real Objects:
Blood dripping from an actor’s nose is fake whereas the blood dripping from the nose of a boxer is real.
Need to appreciate the intention of the art form, e.g. the actors in a stage-play are playing roles different to the people they are in real life.
Subject Matter:
“the very notion of a subject of sport makes no sense.” (p122)
Art can be about sport (as a novel or painting can be about the Russian revolution) but sport can not be about anything other than itself.
Distinction between:
Aesthetic sports, e.g. gymnastics, figure skating, diving.
Purposive sports, e.g. football, hockey, badminton
“..whereas not any way of dropping into the water could count as even a bad dive, any way of getting the ball between the opponents’ posts, as long as it is within the rules, would count as a goal, albeit a very clumsy or lucky one.” (Best, 1978, p104-5)
Some Sport Is Art
Cordner (1995):
sport expresses nothing (has no ‘meaning’)
art expresses ideas, feelings, states of mind, (has a meaning)
There is the common view that sport and art are fundamentally different
Cordner (1995):
E.g. creative / non-creative – sports can be creative in technique and tactics
E.g. mental / physical – street dance is much more physically exerting than lawn bowls
Distinctions aren’t so clear:
E.g. motivation – both athletes and artists can be similarly motivated
E.g. competition / winning – one enjoys sport for its own sake (winning isn’t everything)
Cordner’s criticisms of Best:
The distinction between real and imagined objects is unreasonable
He is wrong arguing that art has a subject matter
He overlooks the deep connection between our responsiveness to art and our responsiveness to people
There is an inherent intellectual bias
Cordner’s conclusions:
Therefore, some sport can be seen as art
Both sport and art reflect human creativity and imagination but in different ways
The activity of art is ‘built upon a capacity for imaginative engagement that we already exercise throughout our lives.’ (p433)
Mumford (2006):
Principle Aim
: sport (especially in the professional era) is designed as entertainment for spectators. Rule changes have been made to make the game more aesthetically pleasing
: sport can express a conception of life, e.g. Brazilian and Polish football
Means & Ends
: Compares rules to script - different directors reinterpret the same script to fulfill the purpose by different means in the same way that there are different ways to win a game of football
Imagined vs. Real
: players can adopt different roles in different games, e.g. playing for one’s club compared to one’s country. In the same way, an actor may suffer real injury for the authenticity of a performance
Subject matter
: What is sport about? This is an enormous question that would require a whole book dedicated to answering it
Aiming to argue that all sport is art
At the very least, some sport is art
References & Further Reading:
Best, D. (1978) ‘The Aesthetic in Sport’ (Ch.7) in Philosophy and Human Movement. George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Cordner, C. (1995) ‘Differences between sport and art’ in Morgan, W. (Ed.) Philosophic Inquiry in Sport. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

Mumford, S. (2006) ‘Sport is Art’ Paper presented at the British Philosophy of Sport Association, Cardiff, May 2006 (unpublished)

Ziff, P. (1974) ‘A Fine Forehand’ in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol. 1 (1). p92.
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