Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is skateboarding escapist?

Some view skateboarding as a sport. I'm inclined to view it as an art form. Art is expressed through various mediums: sculpting, painting, dance, music, etc. In sculpting one produces a solid and rigid figure. Painting, though definite in its final product, offers increased fluidity and freedom of expression. Dance is even more  dynamic than painting, comprising movement in the flux of time. Still, dance involves the movement of a physical body in space. In contrast, music is the most energetic and intangible art form. Out of the mentioned categories of art, I believe skateboarding most strongly resembles dance.

To distill the role of skateboarding we must therefore understand the role of art in general. The following are the views of three notables:

Sigmund Freud believed that people are fundamentally driven by sexual and aggressive impulses. The ideal human state entails ongoing discharge of these tendencies whereby they are temporarily extinguished. He called this the 'Nirvana Principle'. People unable to gratify their impulses and bottle them up instead, are inclined to experience tension and carry out their impulses in fantasy, delusions, and even full blown hallucinations. Art, he believed, is a constructive way of discharging impulses. According to him, however, if one can satisfy his sexual impulses in the real world, he wouldn't need to engage in art! Simply, art is an inferior way of expressing one's impulses, it is an escape from reality.

Arthur Schopenhauer believed that humanity is driven by a subconscious 'will'. A will to live, flourish, express one's self, etc. It is the ongoing struggle to gratify will that plagues life with suffering. However, according to Schopenhauer, relief is not attained by discharging desires but by transcending them through 'aesthetic knowledge.' That is, by learning to perceive reality in a purely intellectual and objective manner until one rises above the relentless tyranny of desires. Art, he believed, allows people to tap into 'aesthetic knowing' because art is generally enjoyed for its own sake and not as a utilitarian means to an end. Hence, in his view, art is not merely an inferior way of gratifying impulses (as Freud thought) but a way of transcending them entirely. Nonetheless, it appears he regarded art chiefly as a way of escaping the ongoing strivings of life.

Fredrick Nietzsche saw people as possessing two opposite modes of expression: a) the uninhibited, orgiastic, frenzied and wild; and b) the measured, contained, and restrained. One who harmonizes these psychological elements by harnessing his explosive energies toward a particular discipline, produces works which are prodigiously creative and 'divine'; simply, he produces art. On this basis, art is seen as the redemptive feature in existence, a revelation of the pinnacle of human ability. Art makes life worth living; art is life affirming. Art isn't an escape from life but an expression of its potential beauty when one lives correctly.

 So what do we make of skateboarding in light of these perspectives? My personal belief is that all three perspectives are true to an extent. Skateboarding does offer a constructive way of discharging sexual and aggressive impulses which could cause psychological harm if repressed. Skateboarding also serves as a medium to temporarily transcend base desires by heightening 'aesthetic knowledge'. But most profoundly, it allows people to bridle their wild tendencies to produce a form of beauty which reveals the potential of life, making it worth living rather than escaping...


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