Despite this, everyone has formed their own individual perception of what ‘art’ is, perhaps a lavishly constructed landscape painting, a photograph of reality, a postmodern mish mash conveying a particular political message. All of which fall under the wide umbrella. One more recent development is the use of the artists body itself as a form of self-expression. Known as performance art, it has seen a rise in popularity because of the close personal connection to the work, the accessibility of the medium, and the primal simplicity. Generally, performance art has been limited to organised exhibitions within the confines of an art gallery, but as is the prerogative of art, it has fled to the street and dance halls. Has it also found a home in the wrestling ring?
Although not commonly classified as such, any form of dance is performance art. Beyond the aesthetic merit, a choreographed performance has all the hallmarks of an artwork, beauty, organised direction and directive, and most of all an audience. By identifying it as such, the boundaries of performance art expand and become even more blurred, encompassing theatre and even mime. In fact, any form of artistic movement falls under the label of performance art, and by doing so, elevates the importance and significance of the product itself as well as the movement used.
Coincidentally, following these criteria, professional wrestling is most definitely a sub genre of performance art, and furthermore, it’s probably closer to conventional performance art than both dance and theatre. Uniquely, professional wrestling is the most sincere reflection of society within the media, as it goes beyond simply replicating reality, instead actually planting itself within it. Pretending fiction is fact. This concept is reinforced by the stylized depiction of reality it creates, almost as if through a funhouse mirror, where familiar characters of the world are distorted becoming laughable cartoon parodies. In the process, becoming a surreal melting pot of current affairs, and the subsequent opinions surrounding them, allowing them to interact with one another. Interestingly, the way these images of life interact is through violence, often battling for superficial reasons, and once done, moving to the next victim or fading into forgotten. Once recognised as art, this construction becomes social commentary and professional wrestling itself becomes far more than light entertainment.
In the contemporary wrestling industry, the characters have come to overshadow the bouts themselves. While on a superficial level this is simply a product of a more commercial approach, but in an art forum, this can be interpreted as another comment on the modern world. The imbalance between words and actions is simply an extension of the similar approach in the real world, where talk is often long, drawn out, self indulgent and inconclusive, while action is rarely taken, and when it is, more talk follows. Even the format that promos are presented in extends this idea. Either in packs or individuals, battlelines are drawn clearly and with obvious prejudice. Either for or against, there is no grey. The monologues are egocentric and delivered with a regal arrogance, coming off as preachy, much like the arguments made by those in society with power.
However, the true artistry occurs in the ring, an epic battle orchestrated between only two competitors. Hours of speech can be transferred to ten minutes of movement. It’s the ring action where professional wrestling truly becomes performance art. The match and outcome are organised a preconceived beforehand, in an effort to both entertainment as well as continue and develop the story that led to it. No words are spoken for the duration of the bout, the narrative constructed through movements. This is achieved because the maneuvers are given meaning when placed on the backdrop of the story, and given a context. A particular slam or strike is performed, not to hurt the opponent, but to express emotion. Some matches and angles achieve this more effectively than others, as seen in the intense audience reactions to even the most basic of moves. This concept is most commonly referred to as ring psychology, but in essence it is more an artistic technique. An artwork painted with bodyslams and dropkicks. Violence is somehow made more poetic than the brash words spoken previous to it, imbuing the most primitive of movement with an order and beauty. A common theme within performance art pieces. Overall, a comment is made on the honesty of movement, and the skepticism that has been bred by the false truths of the modern world. Each match a portrait created not with a brush, instead the human body itself.
Most of all, an artworks exist for an audience, and professional wrestling is created for that reason alone, to entertain and engage people. The physical struggle, the vocal narratives and the distorted human characters come together as one large work of art, forever shifting and changing with its environment. Performance art. Seeing it as such allows us to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole and explore deep importance and meaning in an otherwise frivolous form of entertainment. Rekindling a sport that can too easily become predictable and repetitive to regular viewers when taken at face value.
However, it can be safely said that any artistic merit that can be extracted from wrestling is purely accidental, promoters don’t set out to weave a rich tapestry with the muscle bound bodies of men, they set out to satisfy the fans and turn profits. Some would see this elevation as pretentious, simply another excuse for professional wrestling. But art need not be intentional; the barrier between a chair being just a chair or an artwork is simply someone labeling it as such.
It’s unimportant whether or not you agree that professional wrestling is an art form, but do take notice of what it suggests. Always look beyond the exterior. If only to cure repetition induced weariness. Professional wrestling, just like everything else, goes beyond what you see without trying. Look further and if nothing else you will find yourself with a far more satisfying passion. Art has no definition because art is always around us, art is everything and anything is art.
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Over and Out
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