Quick Thought: Exploitation and Tailoring in Sport and Art

Chapter Six of Heather Reid’s Introduction to the Philosophy of Sport (Elements of Philosophy)is a good analysis of the similarities and differences between sport and art, as well as other ways that these areas relate. One similarity between sport and art that Reid focuses on is how both sport and art seem to be open to corruption by pursuits (usually commercial) that are external to the given internal ends. She writes:

What threatens aesthetic values is not so much the use of sport or art of external ends but rather its exploitation: the selling out of a practice’s internal values in order to pursue external ends (76).

Reid rightly doesn’t go so far as to say that the pursuit of external ends is always or necessarily corrupting of the values of sport or art. And in so far as it goes, I agree that the problem (of corruption) is often one of the sacrificing the internal values for external ones. But Reid continues:

It is one thing to be paid or patronized as an actor, musician, or artist and another thing to tailor one’s art specifically to the market’s or patron’s interests (76).

She continues by drawing an analogy between the above contrast and the contrast of a boxer receiving a monetary prize for winning and the boxer who takes a dive for gambling. The analogy is that the artist paid for his art and the boxer paid for his competing is unproblematic. It requires no sacrifice of the internal values of the art or sport; moreover, the external value is provided because of the achievement of internal values and therefore can be seen as reinforcing the internal values rather than undermining them.

The analogy, though, breaks down between the artist who tailors her art to the market and the boxer taking a dive. Certainly, I agree that the boxer taking a dive is undermining, even destroying, his sport. Fixing a match or contest might be one of the worst violations of sport there is since it utterly negates the very essence of sport: the competition. But I see no such problem in tailoring one’s art to the interest or need of the market or patron. If one adds the qualification that one is engaging in art contrary to one’s aesthetic goals or principles, then I could see how the analogy would hold up. But in the general case, the tailoring of one’s art is not an exploitation or corruption. The great Renaissance artists all worked for patrons and presumably worked to satisfy the interests and concerns of their patrons. An artist attuned to and accounting for the market for his or her work seems prudent and wise, not corrupt.

Partly, this seems to rest on a false dichotomy: Reid is lumping together problematic exploitation and the tailoring of activity for external ends and treating them as one thing in opposition to the proper relationship to the internal ends. But these are different categories that have different effects on the internal values. In the former, the internal values are more likely to be undermined or destroyed. In the latter, the internal ends are more likely to be reinforced (or unaffected) because it is the successful internal activity that is the focus.

This plays out in analogous way with the athlete. The boxer who throws his fight is exploiting his sport, undermining it. But how might an athlete tailor his play to the market? He might engage in certain kinds of activity within the sport because he knows it will delight the fans or the managers, coaches, or owners. For example, the touchdown dance when one scores is, in its best light, an embellishment for the delight of the fans.

I agree, then, with Reid that there is an important moral difference between use and exploitation in sport and art, but I disagree with where she is apparently drawing the line.


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Filed under art, corruption, internal values

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