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Graham Crackers

Popular art, folk art, art brut, and kitsch

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If anybody is planning on treating wrestling as art I think we'd do well to introduce some of these phrases into our vocabulary. It would be easy to be condescending when taking these approaches. That's really not what I'm going for.


-Wrestling will never be seen as establishment/highbrow art. That's why people are often so visceral in their dismissal of any argument based around "wrestling as art" because to most people that is what art means. At the same time, most people have no problem seeing middlebrow popular art as an art form. To me, defining what is and isn't art is completely arbitrary and it is not what I'm planning on doing in this thread.


-Not to imply that commerce wasn't always a dominant force in wrestling but the shifting focus towards global commerce has stomped out much of wrestling's folk traditions. I think the lens of folk art is helpful for understanding much of wrestling's history as well as the origin of modern customs. I'm employing a broader use of the term folk art so if you're accustomed to thinking of folk art as decorative but utilitarian objects that's not where I'm going with this. Instead I'm talking about wrestling as a regional popular art tradition, albeit performative instead of visual.


I'd be lying if I said the exotica of different local customs didn't play a part in my interest in pro wrestling. It Came From Memphis is one of my favorite books and I can't unsee the mythic Memphis in my mind when I see Jerry Lawler and Dutch Mantell play dueling hidden foreign object. The same thing applies to the pageantry of a Mask vs Mask match at Arena Mexico, Nick Bockwinkel getting under the skin of a working class crowd in St. Paul, Brit wrestlers reaching for the Lady in the Lake, Choshu rebelling against the hierarchical valuses that ask him to wait his turn, evil American cowboys wrestling in Japan, evil Japanese wrestlers in Texas, or evil Memphis residents wrestling in Knoxville.


-It's hard to talk about kitsch without discussing irony and this is especially difficult because somewhere down the line irony became a bad word. On the internet I constantly see people accusing each other of liking things ironically. This usually means "I think your pretending to like this or that."


That's not how irony works.


There is an inherent irony when we profess our love of something we know is over the top, melodramatic, corny, tacky, or dare I say it... camp. That does not mean that love or appreciation of camp isn't real. I would consider Russ Meyer one of my all time favorite directors but I'm not sure I'd be able to disagree if someone showed up to say he's just a glorified pornographer. That doesn't necessarily take away from the value I see in his films. At least not for me.


The same goes for wrestling. Most of it, maybe all of it, is crass exploitative entertainment. I still think it's worth talking about.


Camp, kitsch, and queerness have a fascinating relationship and I'm really hoping someone more qualified than me would take up writing about that in relationship to wrestling.


-Is being trained to become a pro wrestler akin to a sculptor going to art school? Is being trained in a dojo or by a trainer with an established pedigree like Diablo Velasco all that different from being trained by a local indy wrestler? That's a hard question to answer when the standards in the New Japan dojo are so different from training in WWE's performance center, or an AWA camp run by Billy Robinson.


So are wrestlers naive or outsider artists? Are only some wrestlers outsider artists? I guess you could argue that the greater community of wrestling prevents it from being truly art brut but how is it decided that a wrestler is trained enough to not be considered naive. Maybe those terms only apply when a real critical landscape exists as opposed to the fandom that surrounds wrestling now.

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