Monday, June 12, 2017

Baseball as Art

America’s National Pastime

This is a continuation of a blog series on baseball, first starting with Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994), posted in April, Baseball by the Numbers posted in early May and Baseball is Beautiful to Watch posted in late May. In this last post on baseball, I combine two of my interests: baseball and art.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. 
And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

 —George F. Will, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (1990)

Babe Ruth Farewell at Yankee Stadium on June 13,  1948, might be the most famous baseball photo ever taken, artistically valuable. Ruth died of cancer on August 16, 1948; he was only 53. Not at all surprising, this photo won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949. Michael Palmer does a wonderful job—the best I have read thus far—in describing the power and poignancy of this photo; he does so by applying the theory of Aesthetic Realism, a way of seeing: “Nat Fein, a staff photographer for New York Herald Tribune, was looking for a picture that would convey the meaning of that day. He left the other photographers and went to the back of where Ruth was standing, where he saw the elements of the story in one composition—Ruth in relation to his former teammates, to the Stadium, to the fans. He saw Babe Ruth in a moment of great triumph and in a tremendously sad moment as well.”
Photo Credit: © Nat Fein

When you are a longtime fan of anything, you know all the iconic images. Baseball is no exception. There is one of Babe Ruth Farewell (1948) shown above, and another of Lou Gehrig Day (July 4, 1939). Then there is one of Mickey Mantle and The Helmet Toss (June 1965) and yet another of Joe DiMaggio and His Swing (June 29, 1941). Yes, it is true that all played for the New York Yankees, the greatest franchise in major league baseball, which dominated the sport (along with the Brooklyn Dodgers) in the 1940s and ’50s.

Even so, there are so many more iconic photos, such as the fierce Ty Cobb Stealing Third (July 23, 1910), the Bobby Thompson Home Run (“shot heard round the world;” October 3, 1951), Wille Mays and “The Catch” (September 29, 1954 in the 1954 World Series); Jackie Robinson and his Third Base Dance (Game 3 of the 1955 World Series) and Sandy Koufax and his Perfect Game (September 10, 1965). Such are only a small select sample of photos that tell the story of baseball in an artistic way, depicting the players who made the game what it is, depicting in its simplicity both its victories and its defeats.

One of the aims of “the artistic” impression is to show the humanity in the human, and these photos do so in a way that captures the imagination, the spirit that ruled the age. The times change, and even if we were around during these times, our memories aren’t as reliable as we would like or think. Memories fade like the photos themselves. Yet, we return to these photos to provide a physical record of not only the history, but also to sense (and recapture) the feelings that then permeated the air.

To see how the two intersect—fine art and baseball— go to [FineArtAmerica] and [Christie’s].