Stamatakis: Painting with baseball bats? There should be a way

By Nick Stamatakis

As shown by acne, braces and school picture day, some things from high school are best left in… As shown by acne, braces and school picture day, some things from high school are best left in the past. This includes how we stereotype artists and jocks.

This isn’t the start of a Disney Channel-style column about how the labels stifle personal development and gloss over the intricacies of human ability — that column has been written too many times. Nor is this about how the two groups are secretly the same. After all, a basketball star can’t just pick up a microphone and start belting “Aida.”

Instead, I’m addressing the animosity that often exists between the two groups — how artists and jocks interact. Be it because of an extension of these unfortunate high school stereotypes or for more valid reasons, neither group seems to understand the opposing side. And — aside from the occasional story of a football player learning ballet to improve footwork — neither group seems to want to take lessons from the other, which is to the detriment of everybody, including the general public.

Of course, part of this animosity stems from legitimate financial concerns, especially on the artistic side. For instance, when Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Scott Mervis recently asked Pittsburgh native Christina Aguilera her opinions of the city, she said that she felt like the city was “very sports-driven” and that “there wasn’t a whole lot of support for the arts.” In her mind, the funds and energy devoted to sports directly detracted from her creative development. Considering that many other cities share Pittsburgh’s propensity to devote excessive public resources toward new stadiums while simultaneously stifling artistic investment, she is likely not alone in her opinion.

Yet what is lost when viewing the relationship between the arts and sports through purely financial terms is that both communities could gain from more productive interactions.

Take the declining state of the nation’s symphonies. Although elite symphonies are maintaining fair health, smaller symphonies are facing serious reductions. The Huntington Symphony Orchestra in West Virginia recently reduced its schedule, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra only just restarted its season after suffering a six-month musician strike in response to pay cuts from management. Compared to the soaring profits of professional sports leagues, the contrast is stunning.

Whereas it is easy for many in the arts community to dismiss this as the people getting “dumber” and no longer being appreciative of great art, another explanation for this contrast might be that athletic competition is simply doing a better job of exploring the themes of human passion and emotion once reached solely through the arts.

Through the explosion of sports punditry in the past 20 years by ESPN and the Internet, we are fed more of a narrative about sports than ever before — a sporting event becomes more than an athletic competition and might become either a story remniscent of David and Goliath or one of a player getting the opportunity to redeem past wrongs.

When these narratives are compared to how classical music is often presented — either academically as “profound” beauty or cheaply as nothing more than catchy music — it is little wonder that the community fails to regain relevance.

This dialogue is just one of many that could be going on between the groups. When the public finds the personal tragedies of disgraced football players more compelling than that of two characters in a play, or has more interest in exploring self-confidence issues when presented with a pitcher through the press rather than a singer through an aria, there is little question that the community might have something to learn.

Before relieving professional sports of any responsibility in this dialogue, though, those in the sports world should realize that they too could learn from a cultural exchange. Many professional sports organizations would be wise to develop a better understanding of artistic restraint — the owners of the Dallas Cowboys, who built their billion-dollar football stadium with no TV smaller than another, specifically could use this lesson.

Another good idea would be for some leagues — a certain national baseball league specifically — to be less concerned about the bottom line and short-term success and focus instead on improving the quality and long-term health of the game.

To be fair, much of the animosity between the arts and sports worlds comes from legitimate concerns over funding. The sad thing about this fighting is that it overshadows the benefits that could be reaped by all if the groups would look past their differences and focus on self-improvement. If the artists and the jocks just get together and talk, we could all get that Disney-Channel ending, after all.

Write Nick at [email protected]