The Art and the Artist

Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?

Screams Maximus (played brilliantly by Russel Crowe) in the movie “Gladiator” after singlehandedly taking down a horde of warriors in the colosseum. The question belies the rage, the frustration and the sadness the character feels and the audience ignorantly goes on to cheer his achievements and gives him a standing ovation. At that moment, as the camera pans across his face Maximus you can see that Maximus is not elated at the reception but is rather exasperated. The cinematography brilliantly conveys the  disconnect between the warrior and the crowd to the viewer without the need for words. Every time i see somebody perform in front of the crowd my mind juxtaposes this image. Do we really understand the message the artist is trying to convey or do we blindly seek to validate our selfish interests?

We the people, have an insatiable yearning for action, humor and drama. The earliest documented form of theater is from the 5th century! Even today, office gossip gets more interest than news from across the world. It is the general need to consume drama that drives us to the movies, concerts, shows, and stadiums. The movie industry is mostly designed with commercial interests in mind. Bar a few, most films adopt a cinematic formula that is guaranteed to attract crowds and also serves as an vehicle to soothe egos of the lead actors. While i am not against these blockbusters, I find it difficult to empathize with such characters and films and hence don’t connect with it at any personal level.

While you kind of know what you are getting into with concerts, movies and shows,  sports somehow manages to hold its own with an enhanced capability to thrill, motivate and inspire. So we pick and choose teams that binds us and glorify athletes who succeed and vilify those who don’t. We tend to equate their success to ours, but we tend to see their failures as a let down of sorts. Sachin Tendulkar who received a guard of honor after the 2011 World cup final at the Wankhede was also infamously booed at the same ground. Novak Djokovic has 18 Grand Slam Titles in Tennis, has won the Australian Open 9 times and yet has a love hate relationship with the crowd. Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Michael Schumacher Lewis Hamilton, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Allison Felix, Usain Bolt, Eliud Kipchoge, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Yelena Isinbayeva  all have records that will probably stand the test of time yet don’t get the same adulation from across the world. Surely, their achievements deserve universal praise and respect, yet many of us have resorted to petty insults and tend to demean their efforts. Why are we unable to celebrate their successes and why are we drawn into mindless GOAT debates?

I am at times awestruck by the work of these masters and blown away by the level of skill that they exhibit.  I kind of visualize sports as this 3-d canvas and the athletes as artists who are at liberty to use the canvas as they see fit, but being bounded by the rules of the game itself. The more complex the rules, the greater the skills the athlete must have to navigate the levels of the game. I think it is only fair to state that their achievements transcend the realm of entertainment. For example, tennis is not about whacking the ball as hard as you can with a mindless rage, it is much more than that. The game of tennis can make you engage in 4 dimensions. You need to be able to move anywhere in the court, judge the height of the ball and also judge where the ball is going to be over time. Even the great Kobe Bryant was made to look flat footed in a tennis court. Nadal’s artistry to make the ball bend over space and time, Federer’s ability to paint the lines at will, Djokovic’s will power to send the ball back, and Serena’s power and accuracy are all testaments to their superlative skills.

Perhaps seeing them as a fellow humans who are able to push barriers is the first step in recognizing their greatness. So, i hope that we let go of our selfish need to be entertained and instead soak in the skill, and the brilliant artistry of these legends.

P.S Over time i have found that i do tend to disagree with some of the personal choices of the athletes and do understand the difference between their art and their lives. Can you be a fan of their art and not the artist? or does you being a fan of their art enable them to push their personal choices to a larger audience.

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