It’s not unusual for people to question how various things can possibly be art, or to declare ‘I could do that!’ at the sight of a renowned Minimalist masterpiece. It’s hard to define exactly what art is, not least because it is constantly in flux; movements come and go bringing new perceptions and audiences with them.
Today art is not determined solely by material specifics (i.e. the canvas or object itself). It is accepted that Contemporary Art is founded on ideas and thoughts, with temporality and spectator experience often forming the basis of the work...
"Can anything be art then?". Shrugs, "Yeh in some ways I suppose so. Anything which engages the viewer, causes some kind of reaction".
"So a game of football could be art?". Silence, and reluctance. "Er. Well not really because the whole point of the game is to win. It’s purpose is never really to be art"
"But what if someone calls it a performance piece. And it’s just a game of football, detached from a league and just for the sake of being watched. As art."
When art becomes more experiential and the importance of the spectator increases, the lines get altogether more blurry. I could see where he was coming from, and hey, the Portuguese phrase ascribed to football ‘o logo bonito’ (the beautiful game) suggests there’s some aesthetics there. Art to me is anything which makes the viewer present in the space, which generates a response and makes someone look think, react, and engage - all for the sole sake of doing so. I had to agree that in the given example football had some legs to stand on.
However dissimilar the two are, within both there are always divided opinions, both can cause joy and disappointment in equal measure and generate a sense of belonging. There are key players in each, and elite individuals or governing bodies pulling the strings. Both require a level of commitment and involvement - to watch, visit or read about. Like art, footballers (i.e. the medium in the 'football is art' scenario) are bid for in an auction style of their own. Both exhibitions and games are more often than not ticketed, and most significantly, both art and football are a universal language; a piece of art, just like a game of football, can resonate with anyone, anywhere, at any time.
That said, on a more crude level, art much less rarely causes drunken punch-ups...and whereas artists are known for being tortured geniuses, footballers are best known for their 'laddish' culture and infidelity.
At the very least I appreciate that a game of football is an exhibition of skill and human expression. However, Alain de Botton’s 5 artistic values help to shed further light on the question:
Art keeps us hopeful and aim to bring out the best in people.
Football has the potential to show us the worst in people - it’s competitive nature ignites the passions of anger all too often.
Art makes us less lonely by making pain publicly visible, as part of the human condition.
Judging by the response to a defeat, I may have to concede this point!
Art rebalances us, it compensates us for what we lack and the qualities we need more of. It makes us more rounded, more sane.
In terms of teamwork, skill, physical activity and drama a game of football may do this. Sanity is perhaps debatable.
Art helps us appreciate stuff - like being present, and reminding us what’s important. It restores glamour to its rightful state.
On the pitch, maybe. However, football as we know it is far too saturated with pound signs and WAGs to ever align with this point.
Art is propaganda for what really matters - it motivates and energises you for a cause, an attitude, it gives the best parts in human nature a platform on which to shine, and focuses on the bettering of the self.
In some ways yes, in others less so.
The main reason that a game of football can never be art, however, is much simpler. As Nathan Sawaya said in his current London exhibition 'The Art of the Brick’, "There are no rules in art”. The very fact that a game of football involves a number of rules - including the offside rule which I claim to now semi-understand - means that it can never be called art.
And if you remove the rules, and take point-scoring out of the equation? Well then yes…perhaps it is art. But it will no longer be football.