The Three S’s: The Sports World, Social Media, and Symbolic Art

Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, that is primarily the appreciated for its beauty or emotional power. Sports are defined as activities involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

Unfortunately, these two outlets are not often associated with one another. In fact, they are usually portrayed as antagonistic opposites;  it is often assumed that there is little overlap between artistic creators and sporting competitors: athletes vs. aesthetes, hearties vs. arties, jocks vs. thespians. Can athletes not be considered artists? Athletes and artists should not be categorized into molds that separate them by the activities they enjoy; after all, what is art? Is it the painting you drew in third grade? Is it the dance recital your sister is practicing for on Saturday? Is it your presence on social media? Is it your participation in  sporting event?

As a college student, I find myself inundated with the presence of social media and often catch myself flicking my finger up and down the glossy screen of my iPhone to check out the latest artistic fads. Now, more than ever, access to art around the world lies at our fingertips – literally. But”traditional” art is not the only thing being pushed across borders through social media platforms-physical sports and sport video games are being publicized too. The Instagram accounts of EA Sports InsiderHouse of Highlights, and Sports Center each garner a tremendous amount of attention achieving 290K to 7.4 M online followers. In today’s society, social media acts like a modern art form. It is rhetoric that we exchange via social connections and it produces widespread discussion through a single channel. I want to challenge the notion that art must be enjoyed in a museum, seen in a theatre, or heard through headphones; I think art can be the way in which every individual expresses his/her self in various forms – traditional or not.

As a mediocre and recreational artist and in an effort to bridge the gap between traditional art forms and digital art forms, I decided to use Instagram to create an artistic account that mimicked events in my life in a simple, unassuming form. Thus, @thestickadventures was created. The pictorial entries involve two characters, Girl and Boy. Initially, I wasn’t sure how I would express the personality behind each character because I did not add facial features “How am I supposed to give these sticks “life” and character?”, “What makes this account different than other artistic accounts?”, “Do I really care?”; these questions swirled around in my head until I realized that the life of these figures come to life in the props I add around them and in the captions I connect to each picture. So, in each post, I refer to myself in third-person as Girl and explain my feelings with concise blurbs about what is going on in each picture. Similarly, Boy is a personification of my boyfriend and is characterized by the always-present backwards hat, and my explanation of his likes, dislikes, and overall personality.

I scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat and the same thought always comes to mind once I have become up-to-date on my friends social lives – why did I just do that? Why do we feel the need to be validated socially and why is it so satisfying? Does our happiness now rely on the number of double-taps a photo receives or how many comments clog up our latest profile picture? I ask myself these questions, yet I continue to partake in this socially acceptable back-scratching ring, liking others’ photos in hopes that they’ll like mine too. I have come to the conclusion that I participate in this digitalized, artistic realm because I want to express myself, not necessarily because I want to watch “likes” flow into my notification center. I decided to create my account to pull myself away from the innate desire to be socially accepted and digitally validated, and rather to share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.I made this account with the intent to “share” for myself. I set the account on public, and purposefully did not follow anyone I knew to avoid potential disappointment or excitement. Over time, I received followers, comments, and likes but reminded myself that the amount of “likes” or “comments” do not guide the content of this Instagram; this Instagram account is worthwhile because it lets me freely communicate without fear of judgement. In the same way that I wanted to express myself, I think athletes use Instagram and other social platforms to achieve a sense of normality in their lives. Male and female athletes alike give the public a glimpse into their lives by sharing moments with their families, friends, and teammates and have the ability to display content that they approve of/find appropriate for their followers. One of the major benefits of this form of media is that athletes have the ability to post what they want, when they want. In short, it is a way for athlete’s to provide a version of themselves that saturated, televised media does not show.

According to Professor Kress of University of London, the layout of a message is “readily manipulated” and can “change not only the deeper meanings of textual forms but also the structures of ideas, of conceptual arrangements, and of the structures of our knowledge” (Kress 16). Layout has changed alongside the acquisition of new information and the development of various of technical platforms; as a result, it reverses the “era of mass communication and its social structures through a new distribution of the means of access to the production and reception of messages in the public domain” (Kress 17). Based on my observations, the layout of this Instagram as an artistic platform invites others in to explore the intentions behind the stick figures. The straightforward, black and white design comments on the profile’s purpose; it is a simple, unambiguous, form of expression. The @thestickadventures profile is a product of both visual, and digital rhetoric. Similarly, Instagram profiles dedicated to sports teams, sports networks, and sport video games add a new element to the sports world; saved photos or video clips of game analysis, famous plays, player interviews, instant replays, etc. can all be displayed on a single platform at the touch of a button.

In each respectful sphere, the greats often have golden, productive spells late in their careers – periods when the insecurities have faded, when the urgent confusions that follow from deep ambition have receded. The artist may have been at the peak of his powers in his/her youth, but there is something even more moving about the final creative outpouring. In the same way, the discerning fan will know the feeling of having watched a great player near the end of his/her career play sport on a higher level – without the fear and franticness of his/her younger days. Conventional artists and unconventional artists should be respected and honored for their work, not pushed away from each other into  separate worlds.

Art no longer needs to be sprawled along your kitchen fridge or above grandma’s fireplace to be marveled at; it can be sent out into a sea of artistic posts that millions of users surf and liked, shared, and eventually lost. It is the baseball that falls into the glove of a fan in the outfield as the runner rounds third base to slide home, it is the blast of the gun that pulls every sprinter out of the blocks, and it is the swoosh of a basketball into the net as the buzzer whines in the stadium. The beauty of both art forms are their impermanence – the acceptance that these moments and images will be forgotten gives them tremendous value when they are first “born”.

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