Is there an Art of Running?

science catLately, I have been thinking about art and science.   People often want to make them seem as if they are two vastly disparate realms.  It’s one of those false dichotomies: are you left (science geek) brained or right (artsy creator) brained?  Those who believe there are two such discrete groups describe the former as logical and systematic, while those in the latter are more expressive and intuitive.

I’m not convinced.  Into which box would you put Leonardo Da Vinci?  He created fabulous works of art that were informed by his understanding of science.  While that’s one great example, aren’t we all somewhere on the art-science continuum?  art-science_png

My focus has been on running as science or as art.   Of course, with all the measurement, pacing, training intervals, and VO2 max numbers, running surely is a science.   Add in all the nutritional information and analysis that runners spend hours digesting and it’s case closed.  Or is it?

Certainly it would be the easier side in a debate to argue running is a science. The fastest runner wins the race.  The results are objective, based on time. To improve, you follow schedules.  You track your time and distances.  If you were teaching math or science, you could find a lot of examples from running for a unit in measurement or of running

Imagine having to maintain the debate position that running is an art.  First of all, for something to be a work of art, whether painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance, theater or poetry, it has to have been created.   Does the creator have to set out to create a work of art?  Does the creator have to have the intent to share it with others?

Almost all of Emily Dickinson’s poems were only published after her death.  She kept them hidden away.  No one can say for certain if she wanted them read by the wider world.  Yet most of us agree today they are most definitely art.

But what does a runner create?  A runner runs.  Where’s the art in that?  “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein famously observed, meaning a lack of substance.  Yet a dancer dances and we know that is art.  Music is performed, the basis of which can be quite mathematical and logical, but we agree music is much more than the pages of notation that constitute a symphony.   If a Bach Concerto or Alvin Ailey piece is played or danced poorly, is it still art?

One commentator on art has defined it as “an expression of the human experience.”  Now that seems to include running.  A basic human action, running is a pure form of movement.  Consider putting aside your Garmin, your preconceived mental markers, your earbuds, and going for a run.   Just run.   Breathe.  Feel your body, moving.  Smell, see, hear: experience your surroundings.

On your way, consider how artists have described art:

-“Filling space in a beautiful way.  That’s what art means to me.”  -Georgia O’Keeffe

-“To me the thing that art does for life is to clean it–to strip it to form.”  -Robert Frost

-“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”  -Thomas Morton

The art of running: there’s no museum, library or concert hall, but I believe it exists.






......former public defender/legal aid lawyer, Teach For America teacher, and always running....

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Marathoner, Detroit native, Red Sox Nation member, lover of all things "all singing/all dancing" and glad you're here. Friends with Coco, Caroline and Simon (2 cats & the Eclectus Parrot).

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