Soil and Sky

A few weeks ago, I went to see the Rembrandts at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, supposedly the largest collection of works by the Dutch Master in America ever.

It was amazing. Around every corner of the gallery lurked four hundred year old profound beauty waiting to be discovered. I loved every second of the forty five minutes I spent at the exhibition. I could have stayed for hours. I cannot wait to go back.

And thanks to law of Public Domain and its section on two dimensional works of art, I can repost images of his work here on the blog:

Rembrandt captured all the beauty and the joy and the complexity of the human existence in his portraits. He was a master of telling a complicated story with simple brush strokes. You look at his work and you recognize the subject’s deepest fears as your own. You are two parts chilled and one part in supreme and magnificent awe.

There is no true way to describe the experience of being surrounded by so much human genius in one small space. It would take a Rembrandt, to accurately describe what was like to behold a Rembrandt.


Sport is often mentioned in the same breath as art. Last March, David Green of The Reverse Sweep compared Virat Kohli to Rembrandt. A decade ago, when describing a throw from the Seattle Mariners’ outfielder, Ichiro, to third base, a beat reporter famously said it (the throw) needed “to be framed and hung on the wall at the Louvre, next to the Mona Lisa.” Video here (warning: you are going to have to watch an ad).

And even I have compared athletic endeavors to artistic triumphs: calling athletes poets, for instance.

But I think in doing so those of us writing about sport are failing to keep our eyes on the ball, and thereby are, in small ways, assisting in the destruction of art. Sure, there are moments when sport transcends and fills us with the kind of awe that a beautiful piece of music can inspire. But sport is not art, it should not be placed next to art. That is not to degrade athletes or athletic competitions, but I think we are destroying art when we use its language to describe sport. It’s like using light to describe darkness, or vice versa.

It’s okay to use hyperbole, but it’s not okay to say that Ichiro’s bullet from right deserves the kind same recognition the Mona Lisa receives. We need a da Vinci to describe a da Vinci. A Japanese singles hitter does not suffice.

And by “not okay”, I don’t mean that it’s wrong. Or that sportswriters like myself who use such similes and metaphors are ignorant hayseeds, it’s just that the comparison is incorrect, is off-base, is low and outside.  Sport is terra firma; art, nirvana.  You cannot use soil to describe sky.

However, in one very important way, art and sport do belong in the same breath: They show us what we humans are capable of, if given genius, and talent, and time, and space. There are horrors unimaginable in this world every day, but there is also art, and poetry, and, well, sport. They all inspire hope, they do it in different ways, but they inspire it nonetheless. That there can be beauty in a world with so much pain is something we should be reminded of daily. It’s good for the soul.

Life is dark and sad and mournful. But in it we can find certain things sometimes that make us feel okay about being human.

Picasso. Ichiro. Kohli.





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