Beauty in movement

Phi is what the Greek scholars named this quadratic pattern, after the first letter in the name of Phidias; the sculptor of the statues of the Parthenon.

All throughout the natural world, true wellness is expressed through beauty. This phenomenon is commonly thought to be nature’s method of ensuring the most healthy and robust specimens are the ones to propagate their genetic material. All throughout history, man has sought to replicate the perceived aesthetic perfection through art, architecture, movement and language. Wether natural or artificial, all that is generally perceived to be aesthetically pleasing seems to contain elements found in The Golden Ratio.


Human movement can be choreographed in such a way that the timing, shape and lines match points along the line traced by the golden ratio. This kinetic symphony can come about through masterful intent or graceful serendipity. But is it considered to be art when it happens by accident?

Can sport be considered art?

This philosophical quandary has been at the root of much debate about the idea that sport is a form of art. David Best arrives at the conclusion that no sport-form can ever be considered an art-form. (Best, 1978) He supports this view by reasoning that unlike art, sport involves a purpose other than aesthetic expression. The athlete may feel compelled to execute their performance with style and grace but, at least in the realm of purposive sports, the aesthetic quality has no bearing on the outcome. In soccer, for example, a goal is counted whether it is kicked with expert precision or is deflected in by sheer luck.

Perhaps the inclination to pair human movement to art is not only rooted in the gracefulness and lines demonstrated through sport. The aesthetic qualities of the physical human form are abundantly apparent in the bodies of the athletes. There are even many elements of the golden ratio within the various body segments of our anatomy. Furthermore, there may be yet another reason to find beauty in human movement. J.M. Boxill counters many of Best’s arguments while offering her own assertion that central to sport is self-expression (Boxill, 1985). The idea that the athlete is “painting” their masterpiece through their graceful execution of their kinesthetic task is a popular one amongst sport philosophers who attach great subjective expression to human movement through sport.

Eye of the beholder

As subjective as beauty is to the beholder of a sunset, flower or Jackson Pollock painting, so too is the enjoyment of human movement; both by the participant and the observer. There is a subjective experience about physical activity that is only known to the person performing the activity and the person/s witnessing the performance. This subjectivity of experience is what makes physical activity something so difficult to promote. We are well aware of the benefits of physical activity yet, the initial pain and fatigue experienced during the early stages of exercise are much more loud in our psyche. Best says it best (hehe) when he describes the subjectivity of art as it applies to physical movement:

“Many participants in physical activities have experienced the exquisite feeling, for instance, of performing a dance or gymnastic sequence, of sailing over the bar in a pole vault, or of accomplishing a fluent series of Christis with skis immaculately parallel. It is certainly the way in which those of us who have taken part in such activities tend spontaneously to refer to them. So although I do not wish to deny that contemplation is an important part of the aesthetic, I would contend that it is not exhaustive. It is by no means unusual to experience aesthetic feelings properly so-called, while actually engaged and fully involved in physical activities. Moreover, many of us who have derived considerable pleasure from a wide variety of sporting activities would want to insist that such aesthetic experience constitutes a large part of the enjoyment of participation.”

It is certainly difficult to convey to the new mover, the joys of physical activity. This uniquely individual gratification is something no personal trainer, life coach, doctor, etc. can effectively communicate to their client/patient. It is up to each of us to find our own “art” in movement. Though we may not be certain if physical activity, in the context of sport, can be considered art, we can all agree that the feeling of movement is something that is to be valued and perpetuated within us all. There are a million excuses any one of us can make for remaining sedentary but if we are to be honest with ourselves, we can not deny that there is a transcendent beauty inherent in the physical expression of our innermost potential through kinesthetic interaction with the world around us.

References:

  • Best, D. (1978). Philosophy and Human Movement. London: Allen & Unwin LTD, 99-122
  • Boxill, J.M. (1985). Beauty, Sport, and Gender, Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, XI, 36-47

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One thought on “Beauty in movement

  1. Pingback: Searching for Atalanta: an ethical look at women and sport | A Mover's Blog

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