Saturday, February 24, 2024

An Additional Lens for Sports Fans: Art But Make It Sports

This question is going to sound ridiculous. Hear me out. When you go to a game or watch sports on TV, what are you looking for? Obviously you aim to see an athletic contest, a victory and a defeat, a display of talent, athleticism, grit, good sportsmanship, and so forth. But what else do you pay attention to? A specific athlete? the star players? I would argue that what captures our imagination reflects who we are and is worth further consideration. Though I have long believed this to be true, PBS Newshour brought this to light in meaningful and unique way.

Part of me thinks it's amazing that anyone goes to games anymore. Between the cost, the time and effort, let alone the comfort of my couch and the high def of my TV screen—it is just so easy to stay at home. Another part of me is amazed at how many people do in fact not only go to gamea but watch them on TV, live-streamed and more! Clearly, sports offers us something more than entertainment. It is not a mere diversion. So what is it that we are seeking? What are we finding?!

If you are a coach, it's hard not to pay attention to how other coaches comport themselves before, during and after the game. How do they talk to their players? How do they respond to bad calls? to mistakes their athletes make? As someone related to referees, I can't help but take notice of the zebras on the gridiron and the hardwood. Do they move the game along? 
How often are they talking to athletes and to coaches? For my friends in the dean's office at school, I know they are always looking at how other student bodies demonstrate school spirit—both in what they say and how they say it. And, as a teacher of Sports and Spirituality, I am perennially on the hunt for moments of grace, inspiration, selfless play, undeniable sportsmanship, respect, stories and more. This blog has been in the works since 2009 because I have found it. 

But I never find it on my own. Quite often friends, family, fans and colleagues share ideas, examples, stories and situations that might resonate with my vision of sports. For example, on #SuperSickMonday, the day after Super Bowl LVIII, a colleague shared a segment from PBS Newshour about an artist who pairs photos from sports games with nearly identical paintings from history (often religious). According to their social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and a website), Art But Make it Sports aims to "turn Art into Sports (and vice versa) | “Everything I didn't know I needed" - follower testimonial | No AI used | See inspiration? DM/tag us." This digital media project was launched in 2019.

I strongly recommend that you watch the video for yourself.  (Here's the link. Hopefully it gets you to the time stamp, but if not, the piece begins at 48:55). The curator, LJ Rader admits "I try to see things through a sports lens, even if it is a piece of fine art....trying to figure out what could that moment of art be in sports? What could I compare it to, image wise, that might make someone look at it and say "Yes. Yeah, I get it. I can see the parallels here?!" 

Rader admits that people are not used to seeing art and sport talked about (and put together visually). I have to admit, I hear the same exact thing when I mention sports and spirituality. His reasons for the connection he finds between the two aren't much different than mine. However, the spiritual life is often abstract and needs to be made visible and concrete. And yet, Rader enjoys the challenge of connecting abstract art with sports, as well.

I have told my students that one of my goals is to include a work of art (usually a painting or a sculpture...sometimes a photographic image or a song) into every class. Why? Christian Wiman, the author of "My Bright Abyss" explains it well. He writes, 

The purpose of theology, the purpose of any thinking about God, is to make the silences clearer and starker to us, to make the unmeaning — by which I mean those aspects of the divine that will not be reduced to human meanings — more irreducible and more terrible and thus ultimately more wonderful. This is why art is so often better at theology than theology is. 

Art But Make is Sports has not only made my job a whole lot easier, it has provided an additional less for how I see each game. 

Photo Credits
All images art from Art But Make it Sports.

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