Sports can be defined in several ways. In its most literal sense, it means leisure or a recreational activity supposed to provide physical training. It is an organized, competitive activity governed by a set of rules or customs in which winning is the primary purpose. However, there has been increasing interest in looking at various sporting activities from the aesthetic point of view. Very often, we talk about sports in the language of aesthetics. For example-in cricket, we say that a batsman has played a beautiful shot or in swimming terms such as graceful strides and strokes are often used. But what we would like to examine is that is it really appropriate to associate such words in the context of sports and can sport be considered as an art form?

At the outset, there can be two possibilities- sports is an art form and there is an identity relation between the two i.e. there are common features in both and the parameters used to define art are also applicable to sport. On the other hand, it can also be possible that sport is not an art but there is often a strong aesthetic component associated with it. It would do us good to first of all, define what entails humans aesthetics and does sport fit in those characteristics.


The American philosopher Dennis Dutton identified seven universal signatures in human aesthetics which are listed as follows-

1. Expertise or Virtuosity- Technical artistic skills are cultivated, recognized and admired. Sportspersons, similarly hone their skills over time which is recognized by the spectators and critics.

2. Non-utilitarian pleasure- People enjoy art for art's sake, and don't demand that it keep them warm or put food on the table. This is also the primary reason why a sportsperson plays a particular sport in which he aims at excelling. Monetary aspects may have infiltrated modern day sports but so has been the case with art.

3. Style- Artistic objects and performances satisfy rules of composition that place them in a recognizable style. Sport also has certain rules to which everyone must conform to. Within this set of rules, there is enormous opportunity of individual achievement.

4. Criticism - People make a point of judging, appreciating, and interpreting works of art. Sports are also not indifferent from having its every aspect judged and critiqued to the finest detail.

5. Imitation - With a few important exceptions like music and abstract painting, works of art simulate experiences of the world. This is not exactly true for all sports.

6. Special focus - Art is set aside from ordinary life and made a dramatic focus of experience. As we have observed in the just concluded Cricket World Cup, sport transforms us into another dimension and makes it much more than a game.

7. Imagination - Artists and their audiences entertain hypothetical worlds in the theatre of the imagination. There is nothing hypothetical about sports.

So, we see when it comes to human aesthetics, sport does satisfy a majority of criterions. But to conclusively judge anything further we need to categorise different sports.

At this point we direct our attention to the difference between types of sporting activities with respect to the relative importance of the aesthetic.


"The aim, purpose or end can be specified independently of the manner of achieving it as long as it conforms to the limits set by the rules or norms. Certain moves or movements, indeed whole games or performances, can be considered from the aesthetic point of view; but that is a relatively unimportant aspect of the activity." If we were to ask a cricket player: 'What would you prefer, to hit 4 sixes in a very routine and drab manner or to hit a non scoring shot which is very graceful?' We are sure that the answer would be the first one.


In these sports the manner of achieving it or the aesthetic component cannot be isolated from the very idea of playing/winning that sport. These sports can be likened to art as the end cannot be taken independently of the means of achieving it. It is not just a coincidence but the way how one performs the movements etc. is central to the theme of these sports. For example, if we take the example of figure skating then the end is not central but the manner of 'doing a summersault in a perfect harmony' is of

utmost importance. To perform a summersault doesn't involve jumping in the air anyhow, but the perfect motion of the body/ hand will form the artistic move and will fetch you maximum appreciation! marks. Similarly, not any way of dropping into the water would count as a dive. One would have to satisfy at least to some minimal extent the aesthetic requirement built into the meaning of the term for a performance to count as even a bad dive. Games come at the end of a kind of spectrum. In most games, competition against an opponent (an individual or team) is assumed. On the other hand-such as hurdling, flat racing, high or long jumping-competition against others, although part of any total picture of athletics, is not absolutely essential to the activity. In any of these sports one can compete for long periods only against oneself. At the other end of the spectrum there are gymnastics, diving, skating, etc. in which grace, the manner in which the activity is carried out, seems to be of central importance.


Manner of achievement of the primary purpose is of little or no significance as long as it comes within the rules. It is far more important for a team that a goal/run is scored than how it is scored. Thus, overriding consideration is the achievement of an external end, since that is the mark of success. In such sports the aesthetic is incidental. In cases where such an extrinsic end is the primary consideration, evaluation does depend on it. For example, a painting considered solely as an investment would be evaluated entirely according to its degree of success in achieving maximum capital appreciation. Where the attainment of the end is the overriding consideration the means of attaining it is irrelevant. It would not matter, for instance, what sort of painting it were, or even that it were a painting at all, as long as the end were realized. These games cannot be called as art forms but only provide an opportunity to aesthetically appreciate certain moments.

The aesthetic sports on the other hand have the means as the riding factor. Collingwood has defined the difference between craft and art on the basis of means and ends. One can imagine a game in which, for instance, points are awarded for a goal, and further points are awarded if it was scored in an aesthetically pleasing manner. So that one competitor could 'win' (in our present sense) a high jump, boat race or cricket match, yet lose because the manner of achievement was inferior.


Now it might be thought that it would be justifiable to regard defined rules as analogous to, say, the form of a sonnet. That is, it may be thought more appropriate to regard them as setting a framework within which the performer has the opportunity to reveal his expertise in moving gracefully than as an externally identifiable aim. However successful a sportsman may be in achieving the principal aim of his particular activity, our aesthetic acclaim is reserved for him who achieves it with maximum economy and efficiency of effort.

From a purely purposive point of view any way of winning, within the rules, will do, whereas not any way of winning will do as far as aesthetic considerations are concerned.


Bell describes Significant Form as aesthetically moving forms which is common to all works of visual art. In sports, we define significant form as combination of movements.

In figure skating, diving, trampolining and Olympic gymnastics it is of the first importance that there should be no wasted energy, no superfluous movements. Champion gymnasts not only perform striking physical feats, but do so with such remarkable economy and efficiency of effort that it sometimes looks effortless. There is an intensive concentration of the gymnast's effort so that it is all directed precisely and concisely on to that specific task. Any irrelevant movement or excessive expenditure of energy would detract from the quality of the performance as a whole, just as superfluous or exaggerated words, words which fail to contribute with maximum compression of meaning to the total effect, detract from the quality of a poem as a whole.


According to us, purposive sports cannot be considered art as the actions are more directly aimed with maximum economy and efficiency at the required end, they become more and more specific and the gap between means and end is to that extent

reduced i.e., it is less possible to specify the means apart from the end. In these sports the gap will never be entirely close and there cannot be a complete identification of means and end or, in other words, the inappropriateness of the distinction between means and end which obtains in the case of art.

Aesthetic sports on the other hand, can be considered as art. In a lot of respects, it is not much different from dance which is a proper art form. The movements (of a gymnast, skater) carried out in accordance with the general formula, has aesthetic quality fused into it, transforming it into an art quality.

We haven't considered RG. Collingwood's emotional aspect while talking about sports. In any art form, there is at least the possibility of a close involvement with life situations; for example, the arts characteristically concern themselves with contemporary moral, social, political and emotional issues. But in case of aesthetic sports, this might not be the case.

For example in skating, diving, trampolining and gymnastics the performer does not have the possibility of expressing through his particular medium his view of life situations. It is difficult to imagine a gymnast who included movements which expressed his view of war, or of love, or of any other such issue in his sequence. This means that aesthetic sports cannot be considered as art as expression and arousal of emotion plays a significant role in an art form.

We have, insofar considered a lot of different aspects while trying to sufficiently prove whether sport falls into the realm of art. What we have achieved is not apparent since art can by defined in a myriad of ways and in our analysis of sports we have tried to comprehensively inculcate all of these.