ARTISTS and sportspeople have a lot in common… really.
I’ve never understood the idea that art and sport are somehow opposed to each other. I’ve spent a lot of time with artists, and a little time with sportspeople, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’ve got more in common with each other than just about any other walk of life or profession.
I have to confess that I’m an armchair sports nut. I’ve used any excuse to spin my cultural credentials into a chance to indulge my sporting obsessions. From auditioning a footy team to trying to compete against Olympians – I’ve taken every opportunity to segue from my arty occupations into my sporting preoccupations whenever a half-chance has presented itself.
In the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, I spent some time up close with a range of hopeful Olympians. Away from the glamour of a couple of weeks of competition, it was a stark insight into the similarities between artists and sportspeople.
Apart from a handful of big names, Australia’s Olympic athletes and those aspiring to be aren’t exactly rolling in dough.
They’re often self-funded or on tiny scholarships plugging away at obscure sports that most of the time we couldn’t care less about. They struggle to balance work, training and international competition. They are forced to move cities and countries to follow coaches, facilities and opportunities. They live in obscurity for 99 per cent of their lives, interspersed with occasional bursts of fawning praise or unforgiving critical glare.
It was pretty much the same story I’ve heard from every artist I know.
Spending a little time with the reality of sporting life rather than the TV image was what it took for me to realise that. Because the artists I know are mostly poor and struggling and the athletes I see on TV are rich and famous, it was easy to assume that the athletes had it easier. Away from the football codes, cricket and the absolute top tier of other sports, your average struggling artist and your average struggling athlete are engaged in something strangely similar.
Because the artists I spend time with are mostly of the hard-working and practical kind, I forget that plenty of people presume that artists, like athletes, see themselves as some kind of glamorous elite. At the 2020 summit, I passed the likes of James Hird in the corridors but discovered that it was the “Creative Australia” group who were being mocked by the other delegates for having all the glamour and fame. I coined the verb “Jackmanned” to describe the process of being constantly elbowed in the head by photographers snapping celebrities on the other side of the room. Yet most of the people in that room would have spent a lot of their “careers” working multiple day jobs to support what they do.
The massive amounts of money, prestige and attention lavished on TV sports, like the popular cultural forms of cinema and music, can create a very misleading impression. The reality is that the vast majority of sportspeople or artists are working in some of the most poorly paid fields going around. The glamour and wealth at the very top obscures the reality of making a living – most artists and athletes do something else to support what they’re passionate about and driven to achieve.
The reality is that most sportspeople and artists are engaged in something fundamentally uneconomic and irrational. Something both completely noble and totally selfish. Some are undoubtedly motivated by the thought of being part of the glamour and fame at the very top of their fields, but more often than not the reasons are far more personal. They’re driven to explore or achieve something that is profoundly personal and to test their sense of what they can be or do or create.
I’ve decided that we should argue less about art versus sport and more about the value of that kind of passion over economics. It is too easy to forget how much we value that. It’s the reason why lists of national icons, “living national treasures” or most admired Australians are full of artists and sportspeople.
We do actually value things that are on one level frivolous, stupid, crazy and indulgent, and on another passionate, wonderful, inspiring and insightful. It’s about far more than economic returns or efficiency dividends.
Both the artists and sportspeople I’ve met seem to get that.
Orginally published in The Age
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Tags: 2020 Summit · Art v. Sport · Australia · australian artists · australian sports people · Creative Australia · economics · hugh jackman · james hird · living national treasures · Melbourne · Olympics · the age · what art and sport have in common5 Comments