Monday, March 5, 2007

Football as art? - Ebren

If football was an art, what would it be?

This question came up elsewhere this week ( – so here are my thoughts.

Firstly, What is it most frequently compared with currently?

Ronaldihno's samba hips are frequently referred to - so dance?

But dance might be a feast for the eyes, a festival of movement, colour, power and grace.

But there is no true drama in dance. No tension. No surprise ending.

And plot is key to football. We know the back-stories, the history of the characters and teams, stories of redemption and talent squandered, feuds and friendships ambitions and fears.

So novels, then - they have all this. But no visual feast, no sound.

A play then - it has its characters and visual display, and rhythms and passion. Stars and supporting cast. The theatre of dreams anyone?

But physical prowess plays no part. I am not in awe of actors.

Ballet has elements of both dance, movement, music, grace, power, but also the drama and plot.

But the ending is already written, the audience watch - they are not involved in the outcome, only appreciate the performance.

Fundamentally - football (or sport more generally) is not like any other art form.

It IS an art form.

Unscripted drama. Grace and brutishness. Briliance and bastards. Tactics and scheming, plotting by managers - but inspirational moments of breathtaking imagination and improvisation.

Art IS life - life as viewed by someone else. If the vision and skill of the artist is good enough then we too get to see the world as they do.

I look at Monet or a Turner and - for a while - I can see the world as he did. And the genius can not only show his world, but teach you something new about it, something you had never see.

The truly great can also make you feel as they do, their fears, joys, loves and passions.

Football can do this as well as many other forms of art. Not just the individuals - the whole thing. It makes you feel, see things you didn't see before in ways you didn't think possible.

Greece break hearts, and write legend winning Euro 2004, then don’t make it to the 2006 world cup.

A Bergkamp touch or pass will show you space in a way only he can, something you – or the defenders – would never have seen (

Henry's power and grace (, footballers are only part of the script, but an unwritten script that is truly worthy of any other.

As Homer almost put it:

Sing, muse of the anger of Zidane, son of Marsaille, the accursed fury that brought uncounted anguish on the Brazilians, and hurled down to hades many great sides, making their managers prey to the fans and the media's feasting: and this was the working of football's will. Sing from the time of the first quarrel which divided Materazzi, lord of Inter, from godlike Zidane.


bluedaddy said...

Did Homer really nearly say that? Was it in the episode where he was the mascot for the Springfield Isotopes?

I think that what distinguishes football for me from other art forms, is that I will much more easily tolerate mundane football, whereas I will quickly reject mundane art. I can happily take enough joy from one or two moments of brilliance (even a well trapped ball, or a well timed tackle will suffice) in a dull game, but bad music, a dull novel, or an uninspiring painting/sculpture will be erased toot sweet.

Saying that I have had more 'highs' from art than I have from football. That hairs on the back of the neck moment, a warm gooey feeling flooding through the body, the transcendent moment where you can believe in more than molecules and time - art (esp music) seems to press those buttons most for me.
I think it may be that I understand the mechanics of football much better than the art forms that bewitch me. I can think a brilliant game when I am playing. I can see spectacular passes. I can appreciate Bergkamp, Zola, Diego, Baresi etc, but I am not nearly in as much awe of them as I am of the musicians I love.

marcela said...

'toot sweet' - now that's lovely...

i think you make a good point, bd, about the tolerance threshold for mundane footy in contrast to art that doesn't 'speak to us'.

but i agree with ebren that football is its own art form. so in a way i wouldn't want to spend too long comparing it to other art forms... in the same way we wouldn't do that, say, with literature and music.

if literature was music... ? if theatre was sculpture...? it doesn't make sense.

having said that, some of the parallels that have come up on various blogs are thoughtprovoking. the most obvious one is to the performance of music, much in the way orchestras involve many players finding the balance to be 'in tune' with one another.

but surely, maradona, zidane, and any kid in a park at times have the ability to make the hairs on the back of the neck moment happen just like standing in front of a masterpiece in full awareness of its beauty can - it doesn't matter if one understands the process (not that i do, particularly, with football or any other art) better in some artforms than others.

i think another difference between football and novels or sculptures and paintings is the time factor. the novel and the artwork remain. football is the performance. in that sense it is more like dance or theatre. but, for me, it is more like poetry.

with a little geometry thrown in.

look forward to a decent scrap about this ...

andrewm said...

I could make one of my GU comments into 500 words and pass it off as an article you know.

Just kidding ebren, this is excellent. I only wish I had something to add.

BD, good point about mundane football and mundane art. I love mundane football. It makes me feel safe. I also have had more highs from art, although art will never top Istanbul 2005.

bluedaddy said...

It is something I would like to try on for size AM, but I fear that the whole Roman's Roubles thing makes it difficult for me to feel unalloyed joy at Chelsea's current triumphs, especially when compared to previous highs. When Chelsea cocked up Zola's departure they let us all down badly, and I feared the worst. I do enjoy the trophies, and I am satisfied that we have learned to win big, but we are missing a bit of magic, and Joe Cole alone isnt it.

Marcela, I suppose the spontaneity of football gives it a special quality, and gives the greatest footballers an enviable allure. They take the fun and skills of the training ground and the park, and transpose them, under intense scrutiny and pressure, to a public performance.

And footballers, and their coaches, carry our hopes and dreams perhaps more directly than many artists. It would be odd to think of a context where as a Spiritualized fan say, I was hoping the band would outplay and outshine the dastardly U2 at the Rock World Cup 06.

But my point about 'understanding the mechanics' is that I feel able to deconstruct a great football moment (not entirely of course, and also not necessarily a desirable action). I know why I loved it, why it was special to me, why the skill was sublime. If I watch dance I can also really appreciate it because I love to dance myself. But with music especially, it is like the artists can conduct magic, weaving emotion and nature into sounds, that turn back into emotion and nature.

I cant really put it into words. But I've always regarded deafness as the worst punishment I could be given.

MotM said...

I need more time than I have to digest and consider this fascinating topic.

I will just throw into the mix two views:

Jazz? The best of football has some of the quality of the best of jazz in its improvisation, its foregrounding of different players and different skills, its roots in the have-nots of society and its infinite variety within set frameworks.

I've also seen parallels between football and the creation of great food. The manager as chef with players taking on other roles in the kitchen and the audience outside. Ingredients are familiar, but somehow the result is not. And you're never quite sure if you're going to served up warm leftovers or the meal of your life.

Sorry if these ideas for parallels are old hat.

Ebren said...

BD - I don't think being able to deconstruct something takes away your ability to be lost in it.

My family numbers several artists, one or two musicians, a director, a couple of recovering actors, and a former top-flight sportsman. No authors or poets yet, but we are working on that.

But, even if I know how the grounding was laid in a Titian, or understand what Mozart was getting at with the crushed harmonies, or see how the blanched palate of Meirelles in City of God is used, if the work is good enough it will not matter. I will be lost in it. Or better still, I will appreciate the skill and still be lost in it - making me love it more.

Somewhat like you know what's going to happen when Henry gets wide left and opens his body. The ball is going around the keeper and into the goal. But just because you know how he does it, it doesn't mean a) you could stop it from happening if you were playing and b) that you do not appreciate its aesthetic qualities.

People that really study art and its history (and I don't, predictably enough there is an art history graduate in my annoyingly encyclopaedic family) can appreciate Jackson Pollock for his inaesthetic qualities - just like we might enjoy the physicality of Terry or even Vinny Jones - while dilettantes like me enjoy Turner and Titian because it's pretty.

That's the point - we are football connoisseurs.

We appreciate the 0-0 and the 1-0 for the little things, like experts might appreciate the palate of a Hockeny or the simplicity or production on S-Club's Reach.

I would imagine there are a lot of people out there who look at a Gerrard goal and say "that was good", but will never appreciate what Makelele/Carrick/Mascherano brings to a team.

I've lost my point here and my boss is looking at his watch - so TTFN.

Oh, and your fear of going deaf explains the Chelsea supporting nicely - never get that much noise there anyway. I take it you don't go away to Anfield without ear-defenders ;o)

MotM - I was going to make the chef point, but didn't have time. I'll put something more together if I get some time this avo

bluedaddy said...

I realise that i am really talking about a 'sense of wonder' rather than appreciation or understanding. I think what i might be getting at, or failing to, is that maybe I go with the 'football as life' tack. Art, though an important reflection of/reaction to society and history, can often be enjoyed out of time, and can retain beauty or pleasure (or ugliness and pain too I suppose) in itself.
Football on the other hand seems to carry much more weight when we watch with something at stake. So history on and off the field gave the 5-1 victory in Munich vs Germany a special significance (quite beyond the significance of the result, the points gained, what happened next). Whereas Argentina hammering the Serbs at WC06, was pleasurable, but a far lesser pleasure - for me. Maybe not the best examples (hard to really care what happens to England nowadays), but it is Monday.

Zephirine said...

Love the Homer... Yes, each sporting contest is an ephemeral work of art, being created by the players as we watch. Not sure Wayne Rooney would quite relate to this concept, but I bet Roger Federer would know exactly what you're on about.

guitougoal said...

any specific way to express inspiration and creativity may be related to art. Football when creative or played with style represents a natural extension of art .Any creative form of expression may be called art, why not football when play with creative skills?... The curious thing about the word "art" is that it means different things to different people and is constantly evolving.During the antiquity only sculpture, painting, music or litterature were considered as an art form of expression-Artists were considered as "choosen elite". But this restricted notion disappeared with the times and popularized itself to the point that it could decrease the perceived value of the word if we cross the fine line .....
Our thoughts, regarding the emotional attachment we have with football, are divers and in this way the range of what is deemed "ART" has a much broader interpretation.We probably are tempted to romanticize everything we like and we treasure, but it's also the purpose of any art exression to create emotions.In this regard I do think it is tempting to associate both football and art.

bluedaddy said...

A friend of ours is an artist (works mainly in video installation or online) and stays with us from time to time, as his erratic nature, and lack of income, means he leads an unpredictable lifestyle.

In answer to our kids (age 5 & 7) question, "What does D. do?", we told them he was an artist. Their next question was: "But where are his paintings?"

guitougoal said...

Bluedad, I would probably answered by the same question at 5 or 7. Interesting to project their answer at the same question later in life once they have experienced "feelings" about anything related to art.
My point was not well made, first of all I didn't answer Ebren's question, if football was an art what would it be? because honestly, I can' it as a collective form of art?...the jazz band as OTM suggested why not. But as an individual, solo players like Diego, Zidane, Garrincha (danse) Beckham, (precision) George the Best or Ronhaldinho (one man show) etc...etc..everybody has a different answer because we are talking about our own feelings and feelings are different and hard to explain. (I am curious to read about Miro on this subject.

guitougoal said...

Bluedaddy, about "unpredictable lifestyle" that is also a sign isn'it? As far as U2 I am with you and to be honest, If I had a choice between a U2 concert and a MLS game , no hesitation at all, I am very predictable on this choice.

olivier said...

Once again, Lilia Thuram on Football and Jazz:

'Footballers can be like artists when the mind and body are working as one. It is what Miles Davis does when he plays free jazz - everything pulls together into one intense moment that is beautiful. He doesn't have to think about it; it's pure instinct."

(you can read the rest here:,,2023500,00.html )

The full interview is worth reading. Monsieur Thuram would also have us believe football is politics.

Personally, I think football is a martial art.

marcela said...

marcela said...

thanks for the thuram interview link BTW. i have already forwarded it, and was reminded of some wonderful moments in the film les yeux dans les bleus, where the player's own music choice is So What, by Miles Davies, and the music becomes the soundtrack behind some football shots... very lovely.

i'm sure you've seen the film, but this is a good feel if you haven't: hope non- francophones are not put off, the last minute or so (dancing footballers) are choice. i couldn't find the So What clip on you tube, but this is the first ten minutes of the film:

olivier said...

offsideintahiti said...

Great Cantona link, Marcela. Not exactly what I meant by martial art, but fitting nonetheless. I love the old lady in the first row, trying to get away as if she'd seen the antichrist.

greengrass said...

Nice one, Ebren! Short and sweet - an invitation to others to come aboard and play their parts.
Does football need to be regarded as an art form? Does football need to be compared to art forms - like/unlike, better/worse?
Maybe we sometimes feel a need to justify footy as an art form, since the custodians of art and good taste have so often displayed a snotty class attitude to the sport we love.
If I really strain myself, I can accept a comparison with jazz - a collective expression in which the members of the team allow individuals to improvise surprising
moves. Jazz musicians, however, play together for listeners - not against a team consisting of other musicians in front of a crowd - and they would probably be a bit peeved if the audience started singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" in the middle of an introvert solo in E-flat minor.
Then we have the tribal thing in football - a bit that brings out aspects of myself that I'm not too keen on. I might tell myself that I don't care about England's fortunes any more, but it is ENGLAND I so passionately don't care about - not France or Turkmenistan. Yes, OK - music has had the "Elvis or Cliff?" business, but that is not really the same thing.
No - football is not an art form. Sometimes it is far better, when it
lets us see players transcend themselves. Not all of us have improvised jazz solos, but we've (almost) all played footy, and we know that the players we watch are better than we ever were (though perhaps not quite as good as we once dreamed of becoming); thus we rejoice when they transcend themselves and lure the pants off the other side.
Rooney, for instance - hardly elegant, then suddenly so sublime...

MotM said...

2003 - The Valley. Rooney, no more than ten yards away from us Blues fans. A ball is fizzed into him on the corner of the six yard box. One foot stops it dead while the other is already spinning. Almost before you register that, the ball is in the roof of the net.

Art - don't know: but it was an instant that transcended sport.

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