Sport Or Art?
" is this search for self and/or for the meaning of existence that has produced some of man's most creative endeavours; his myths, his religions, his works of art, his philosophic systems, his scientific theories and his games. The sport form, like many of man's other creations, has been described as a sort of 'world'. When we are engaged in sport we are separate from the other aspects of our life and involved in something that is considered non-utilitarian, that is, it is not absoulutely essential in order to live or subsist. Any one individual may exist in several 'worlds'. These 'worlds' may be functional such as a family world or a work world or they many be non-utilitarian worlds such as hobbies, music or sport." 1

A definition of sports includes this notion of being separate, and also includes the idea of personal experience that is different each time. In
Sport in a Philosophic Context, Thomas considers sport to be:

" artificially specific situation in which the individual, alone or with others, physically moves over time and space to perform a series of actions that will achieve some arbitrary standard or fulfill a predetermined intent."2

Sport and the Body, Gerber defined sport as:

"...A human activity that involves specific administrative organization and an historical background of rules which define the objective and limit the pattern of human behaviour; it involves competition or challenge and a definite outcome primarily determined by physical skill"3

4 looked at sport as a game occurrence, compared the qualities ascribed to play (Huizinga & Callois) and then noted the similarities. These sport characteristics include:

1. Freedom. Participation is voluntary.
2. Separation. It is spatially and temporally limited and set apart from the ‘real world’.
3. Uncertainty. The end result is in doubt from the outset.
4. Unproductive. Non-utilitarian. It does not result in the creation of material goods.
5. Governed by rules.
6. Make-believe. Outside ‘real’ life and has a pretending quality.

These criteria apply to all sports. Each exists in its own world with its own unique rules, equipment and number of participants so people can choose the one that provides them with the end values they seek. Among these Loy
5 lists:

1. An aesthetic experience
  2. An ascetic experience
  3. A cathartic experience
  4. A combative experience
  5. An environmental experience
  6. A fortuitous experience
  7. A healthful experience
  8. An experience of physical contact
  9. An experience of skilled performance
10. A social experience
11. A strategic experience
12. A vertiginous experience

There is little disagreement that Free Skating has sporting characteristics. Does it have the potential to provide an aesthetic experience? Aesthetic experiences have several characteristics in common according to Abeles, Hoffer and Klotman in Foundations of Music Education.

1. No practical or utilitarian purpose (food, shelter, and clothing)
2. Involves feelings (a reaction to what is seen and heard)
3. Involves the intellect (the mind is active as it notices and relates the experience)
4. Involves a focus of attention (must be contemplated)
5. It must be experienced (cannot be described by another)
6. Results in a more meaningful life (opposite is anaesthetic- nothing)

According to this criteria Free Skating has the potential to provide an aesthetic experience. All sports can provide an aesthetic experience if one chooses to reflect on the seemingly unlimited capacities the human body has to effortlessly move and perform but sport's expressive potential is limited to only some. Expressive potential is increased when the performer's face and body is visible and when music is introduced as an integral part of the performance. Whether a performance rises to the level of Art is another matter. Art as described by Langer

" a perceptible form that expresses the nature of human feeling"

Feeling in this sense does not refer to one’s feelings about a performance but the feeling the performance describes. Feeling in dance, an art form, is described by Langer:

"...Dancing is not a symptom of how the dancer happens to feel; for the dancer‘s own feelings could not be prescribed or predicted and exhibited on request. Our own feelings simply occur, and most people do not care to have us express them by sighs or squeals or gesticulation... What is expressed in a dance is an idea; an idea of the way feeling, emotions and all other subjective experiences come and go...a dance is not a symptom of a dancer’s feelings, but an expression of its composer’s knowledge of many feelings...what we see when we watch a dance is a display of interacting forces; not physical forces, like the weight that tips the scale or the push that topples a column of books, but purely apparent forces that seem to move the dance itself. Two people in a pas de deux seem to magnetize each other; a group appears to be animated by one single spirit, one Power. The stuff of the dance, the Apparition itself, consists of such non-physical forces, drawing and driving, holding and shaping its life. The actual physical forces that underlie it disappear. As soon as the beholder sees gymnastics and arrangements, the work of art breaks, the creation fails"8

Figure skating is connected to dance through its inclusion of music and demand for rhythmic movement. Because the technical demands of Free Skating are so high nowadays, most programmes must be designed to accommodate the mental and physical preparation necessary to successfully complete them. This highlights their gymnastic quality so artful statements are often diminished.

Competitive figure skating programmes strive to garner the most marks possible in the pursuit of victory in a contest. They do not exist to be expressive of the nature of human feeling. Any real or choreographed emotion makes the presentation of the elements more attractive which may earn the programme more marks. Feeling as it applies to art is not the same as the feelings expressed by the contestant during the competition or the feelings felt by the spectator as he watches and should not be confused with the expression of a feeling for contemplation.

"...When we say that a work has a definite feeling about it, we do not mean that it either symptomizes this feeling, as weeping symptomizes an emotional disturbance in the weeper, nor that it stimulates us to feel a certain way. What we mean is that it presents a feeling for our is not a symptom or a catharsis of feeling, it is an articulation of it"9  

Since Free Skating does not have the articulation of human feeling as its primary objective and it is unlikely to do so inadvertently, it must be concluded that it is a sport, albeit, one with strong aesthetic possibilities and one that can be artfully presented.

In Free Skating competitions programmes are marked for their technical merit and presentation.These two marks are inextricably linked. Because the technical elements now being performed are so difficult skaters must be extremely proficient and efficient to execute them. Superior skating ability will also be reflected in the Programme Component scores especially in a marking system in which the programme components include technical components. Poor skaters cannot make up for their technical lack through presentation, first, because they lack the skill necessary to execute superior performances artistically, second, their lack of technical proficiency does not enable them to include artfully presented risk elements and third, their performance often includes an unacceptable amount of error. Poor technical skills disrupt the programme's capacity to display breath-taking human movement.

In competitive performances there will always be times when imperfect elements must be included. Short programmes for example demand skaters perform required elements. Even in long programmes there is pressure to include risk elements to be competitive. Their difficulty may be disregarded but the flawed performance of them cannot be. When flaws are present and the flow of the performance is disrupted a figure skating performance on the whole can no longer be considered to be even aesthetically pleasing no matter how artful the remainder of the performance might be.

Which is not to say that sport does not include elements of drama, pathos and joy but these are more likely to be a result of the progression of the contest itself. Drama is an inevitable by-product of an equal contest in which sporting victories are uncertain at the outset. Advances toward victory are gained through training. Therefore, intent, preparation and commitment are prerequisites for sport to have dramatic potential. The recognition that the athlete is prepared and devoted to the contest makes sport compelling viewing.

A Definition of Free Skating
Free Skating is a sport in which the intent includes, but is not limited to the successful execution of Free Skating elements. Their difficulty is modified by the choice and use of connecting movements, the use of the chosen music and by the simultaneous use of the body as an instrument of personal expression. Grace, rhythm and style should be evident in the skater’s use of movement to express the character of the piece. The performance as a whole should highlight physical skill in an entertaining and artful manner.


1 Carolyn E, Thomas, PH.D.: Sport in a Philosophic Context. Lea & Febiger 1983
  2 Carolyn E, Thomas, PH.D.: Sport in a Philosophic Context. Lea & Febiger 1983.
  3 Ellen W. Gerber, William J. Morgan: Sport and the Body: A Philosophical Symposium. Lea & Febiger1979
  4 Carolyn E, Thomas, PH.D.: Sport in a Philosophic Context. Lea & Febiger 1983.
  5 Carolyn E, Thomas, PH.D.: Sport in a Philosophic Context. Lea & Febiger, 1983
  6 Harold F. Abeles, Charles R. Hoffer, Robert H. Klotman.: Foundations of Music Education. Collier Macmillan Publishers,
  7 Suzanne K. Langer: Problems of Art. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957
  8 Suzanne K. Langer: Problems of Art. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957
  9 Suzanne K. Langer: Problems of Art. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957