Wrestling with Art
Bob Ross; artist, pro wrestler, or both?
Historically, wrestling has always been considered wrestling, while calling it art is a very recent trend. I consider the debate behind whether or not wrestling is art to be a dead end. This is due not only to the two conflicting philosophies behind wrestling (old school/new school), but because the definition of art is itself up for debate.
Via Meriam Webster, the definition of art:
- 1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation the art of making friends
- 2a : a branch of learning: (1) : one of the humanities (2) arts
- 3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill the art of organ building
- 4a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects the art of painting landscapes; also : works so produced a gallery for modern art (1) : fine arts (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : one of the graphic arts
- 5a archaic : a skillful plan : the quality or state of being artful (see artful 2a)
- 6: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter
The argument behind what art is gets even deeper than that. People within the art community don’t even agree on what art is. Try googling “Is Art Art” or “What is Art” and you’ll receive a wide array of opinions which confuse the topic more and more. If the art community doesn’t know what art is, should we really be comparing wrestling to art?
As far as art goes, I personally prefer the Oxford Dictionary definition for Art:
- The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power
This definition, as well as those above it, make room for physical performances such as plays, musicals, operas, and even stand up comedy. These definitions could also easily be applied to wrestling. But if we are going to seriously consider whether or not wrestling is art, we need to look at where wrestling is in relation to art.
There are exceptions, but Contemporary/Modern Art tends to be completely devoid of beauty and emotional power, unlike the prior periods in art history. Contemporary/Modern Art also allows for anything to be art and anyone to be an artist because the outcome, or piece of art, is not judged in any meaningful way. It’s just a thing. There is no beauty, nor emotional power involved during any point of it’s creation. It has just as much value as anything else. If anyone and anything can be art, then art is either dead, or irrelevant, as quality and skill are no longer important factors. Just consider what has been passed off as art in the past few years:
Can wrestlers call wrestling “art” if artists don’t know what “art” is?
Discussing wrestling in terms of art may be more appropriate than some think, but it does the same thing to wrestling that Contemporary/Modern Art has done to art, it intellectually allows for everyone to be a wrestler and everyone with a ring to be a wrestling company. Is this really where “wrestling is art” supporters want wrestling to go?
- This allows for untrained backyard wrestlers who don’t have a clue what they are doing to put themselves on par with some of the greatest wrestlers ever.
- This provides an excuse for the lack of talent in these “everybody is in on the gag” wrestlers to continue doing what they are doing without getting better, or even wanting to.
- Why should anybody pay more money to go see a show you’re on, when the place right down the street is cheaper and there’s no difference between what the yard tard does, and what you, the professional wrestler, does?
- Then anybody can claim to be a wrestler, and run a wrestling company, then the product as a whole (every wrestling company taken into account) becomes diluted.
- There should be no issue with a random person putting up a ring in a building, putting on a show, charging for tickets, and then letting the audience members be the wrestlers, or even telling the audience to imagine the wrestling taking place. After all, it’s just art.
This dilution is preventing everyone from making more money because the floodgates are wide open. We are at the point where there are now too many shows and too many wrestlers. Additionally, thanks to the massive influx of companies, why would someone who is running their own company pay more money for better wrestlers when these other wrestlers will do it free? This is where “wrestling is art” winds up. Everyone working for less money, or for free, and those who wrestle for free drive down the rates of the better talent in the area.
Ultimately, I think the discussion of whether or not “wrestling is art” is framed wrong. The discussion has been about the form known as wrestling, rather than the quality of the in-ring product and what it inspires in the audience member.
If we narrow the discussion down to the in-ring product, then the modern day version of wrestling has to reconnect with its historical roots; fixed fights meant to con people out of their money. To do this, it needs to revert back to being based in reality, which is nothing more than putting in place a standard for this “art form”.
That standard should be along the lines of replicating a fight close enough for those in attendance to be unsure as to whether they are watching wrestling, or a fight. Being able to put the fan in such a position is how wrestlers have historically been able to emotionally manipulate audiences into “emotionally powerful” states.
One may “oh” and “aw” at some of the things “wrestling is art” wrestlers do in the ring these days, but fans aren’t being driven into a murderous frenzy by the actions of a heel, nor finding themselves relentlessly devoted to the babyface to the point they want harm to come to the heel. Instead they try and get the audience to react by no-selling power bombs and and doing penis suplexes. The audience is without passion.
The reality that used to accompany the in ring product has proven sustainability (wrestling is still here). On the other hand, “wrestling is art” only provides very fleeting moments of disbelief, while abandoning the very foundation of wrestling, creating emotionally powerful states in fans that allow those fans to be manipulated.
The “wrestling is art” philosophy also leads in a direction that it is self-defeating, as there will come a point when everything that can possibly be done with the human body will have been done in a wrestling ring. If, but most likely when, we do get to that point, the “art is wrestling” crowd will find itself lacking an audience because no one will care since it has all been done and seen before, and there is no substance to the in-ring product, such as stories.
Do we want fans addicted to moves? Or do we want fans addicted to stories?
The “wrestling is art” side of the argument seems to want fans addicted to moves. The other side wants the fans addicted to stories. There is plenty of room in the middle for both sides to meet and make tons of money, but this requires a certain minimum standard to exist that both sides can agree to, and both sides will have to be flexible in their thinking.
*Editors Note: Chris Marshall is a contributor, professional wrestling referee, and producer of the Nothing To Prove Podcast. You can follow Chris on Twitter at @Zentriphied.