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In Defence of the Arts

Following the Wallabies recent draw against the All Blacks, SMH correspondent Peter FitzSimons lamented that “sneery anti-sports types” were missing an opportunity to express the “extremes of emotion” that only nail biting sporting contests can elicit. He went on to argue that such emotional extremes would never be experienced in an art gallery or at the theatre. I wouldn’t dream of characterising Mr FitzSimons as a “sneery anti-arts type”. Even if he argued that a whole lot of boofy, mud splattered blokes, battling it out until the final siren was more thrilling and emotionally draining than any piece of art could ever be.

The assumption would be then, that as we are at the pointy end of the final series of various footy codes, the Australian population is about to be moved in a way that can never be found anywhere but at a footy ground. Certainly not in a theatre or at an art gallery.

I’m sorry but that is just total BS.

Let me tell you why.

Last week I attended the opening night of Sunshine Supergirl, a beautiful re-telling of the extraordinary life of Evonne Goolagong. In itself Evonne’s story is enough to make you marvel at her incredible tenacity in overcoming the unbelievable odds that were stacked against her. When that story is translated to the stage by a team of Indigenous artists who take us from the river bank in Barellan to Wimbeldon and back again, you experience as wide a range of emotions as you could imagine. You laugh, you cry, you shake your head in disbelief. There are moments when you feel sick in the stomach, others when you clench your fists in rage. In short, you are taken on a journey that takes you to as many highs and lows as any footy final/Test match could.

Before you run away with the idea that Sunshine Supergirl was about a sportsperson and therefore not that far removed from footy, let me point out that it wasn’t the result of the tennis that stirred our emotions. It was the triumph of the human spirit expressed so beautifully in drama, dance and design.

As Peter FitzSimons pointed out, far more people participate in the arts that all the footy codes combined (with cricket and basketball thrown in for good measure). Despite this statistic, here in Australia we seem to have bought the myth that the arts are somehow “snobby” and for the “elites”. Intellectual pursuits that high brow types, distant from their emotions, experience as some sort of academic exercise. The argument being that the Aussie public only really let go with their emotions when they encounter a nail biting sporting contest.

That is clearly nonsense.

There isn’t enough room here for me to list all the plays, art exhibitions, musical recitals/concerts, dance pieces that I have seen that have moved me, enraged me and thrilled me. Let alone the number of performances by my students that have left me wiping my eyes, my heart bursting with pride.

I’m not “anti-sports”. I love sport. I just wish we could get over this notion that being a follower of the arts and sports is mutually exclusive.

The arts can touch us viscerally much the same way that sports can. They reach into our souls and transport us to places we may never have imagined. They are vitally important for a mature, three dimensional society. And never more than now, in an age when we are becoming increasingly removed from actual contact. In a world of fakery and lies it may be that one of the only real connections that is left to us is the connection between and audience and performers. An audeinces responses aren’t stage managed (sorry) or confected. They are real and they happen in the moment. Just like they do at the footy.

Sport and the Arts can co-exist, just as they did in Ancient Greece. It’s high time we stopped this nonsense and recognized the Arts for the increasingly valuable contribution they make to a sophisticated society and the deep emotions they are capable of stirring in all of us. Including footy fans.

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© 2020 by Ned Manning.