If you know me, you probably know that I’m a baseball fan. It’s a terrific game. People who seriously follow baseball call it their religion, or a mirror for life. People have said the same about theatre and other art forms. Baseball may not be a national obsession (that dubious title probably goes to pro and college football) but it is still a national pastime, and the arts can learn a lot from it.
First of all, baseball is available at the highest professional level almost every day and although it costs more to produce and pay for players in New York and LA (just like the arts) a fan can see the highest level of professionalism in cities as diverse as Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Phoenix. If you can’t see it live, you can access a reasonable facsimile for free or close to free. Children are encouraged to participate from a very young age – not just spectate, but to put on a jersey with a number and hit a ball off a T and run around the bases. I admit that, unfortunately, much of that encouragement goes to boys, but it’s an imperfect world. Even as adults, amateur players can actually play ball, not just spectate (I myself even had a short stint in the Broadway Show League, a co-ed recreational softball league that plays in Central Park). It’s always family friendly and, oh yeah, there’s food. Even my kid’s recreational league had a snack bar staffed by parent volunteers. There are different levels of spectator opportunities – from the luxury box to the bleachers in the major leagues to A, AA, and AAA farm teams where local performers sometimes take to the field between innings. People can even watch the training and the practice.
So, what does my love letter to baseball have to do with the arts? Baseball helps me envision a different kind of place for the arts in America. I’m imagining an arts ecosystem that involves lifetime participation as well as spectatorship, geographic variety, multiple levels of professionalism and expertise, and, most importantly, arts participation as an everyday pastime, not just something to do on a special occasion.
When I was in high school I wrote a editorial for the school newspaper that was critical of sports in school. It nearly got me expelled. Every Monday morning in science class our teacher (who was also a sports coach) spent the first 20 minutes of each class recapping what happen at the friday night game. Everything in school centered around the male dominated teams.
Today not much has changed. We still live in a world where women’s teams barely get the recognition and attention that male sports do and we as a society still cater to a NFL that makes close to 10 billion dollars a year in profits but yet is classified as a non-profit organization. Museums continue to struggle to stay alive yet here in Michigan the taxpayers are once again fronting the bill for a $500 million dollar sports stadium.
Personally I don’t see the analogy here. Sports is a competitive, physical activity. Art is a means of how we can know something. Sports is extrinsic. Art is intrinsic.
According to a Gallup poll just 52% of all Americans identify themselves as sports fans. The majority of self identified professional baseball fans are men -58%. There are only two sports categories that women are the majority of fans- tennis and figure skating.
Before we hold up the world of baseball or football as a role model for the arts it would be interesting to know how many of those who say they are sports fan also would say they are fans of the Arts? I’m willing to bet a very small percentage.
Richard: Please do not equate baseball with football. They are different in the most fundamental of ways. A surprising number of artist friends are baseball fans, BTW. Best wishes to you, LE
I am reminded of the Createquity post from a few years ago on motivated cognition/mood affiliation and the analogy between baseball and the arts:
The really fascinating aspect of this is how our loyalties are often outside the realm of rational motivation. And the lesson I see is that if you are attempting to convert non-believers to your cause you can’t simply do so with rational arguments. You never see the sports industry promoting itself through some logical calculus. Rather, they often start at grassroots level and with youth and weekend warriors, intramural teams, and neighborhood pick-up games. Once you make someone a believer in what you do its no longer about the rational justifications (if it ever was). Its fairly obvious that if you want someone to support the baseball industry you make them interested in baseball. The most affiliating instance of this is that they play baseball themselves. In other words, that they self-identify as a player of baseball.
Rather than attempting to find space within communities for the arts it seems a change of perspective is in order: Find the art within ourselves first. Become artists in our own right and we will all have no problem in committing to the cause. When it affects us personally, affects the values of our own lives and interests, what more motivation do we need?