- The Art and Aesthetics of Boxing by David Scott
The Art and Aesthetics of Boxing presents itself as an analysis of the art and poetry that takes boxing as its subject; but in its own right the book is itself an artistic and poetic presentation of boxing. Even for readers disturbed by boxing's violence, David Scott convincingly delineates a theory of boxing aesthetics and argues for boxing's importance in defining masculinity in Europe and the USA, particularly in the twentieth century. Scott further stakes a claim for boxing as a fertile field for artistic attention thanks to its deep historical roots, as a result of the way the sport concentrates violence, deception, and beauty in the blank space of the ring, and because of the sport's numerous contradictions that reflect the "dynamic tension" of modern life.
Scott divides his book into three parts. Part One examines the history of boxing from antiquity into the twentieth century with a particular emphasis on the way the evolution of boxing's rules have made the sport a more appealing visual spectacle: the advent of the glove, the change from the ring of people surrounding fighters to the "square ring" of the modern sport, the advent of rounds, the use of feminine silk clothing, the addition of flexible ropes, and so forth. Part Two provides a careful reading of numerous works of art, from photos to sculptures to posters to paintings. Scott moves quickly through different artistic movements suggesting, as examples, that futurist artists focused on boxing because of its energy and constant movement, that cubists appreciated the multiple perspectives the moving boxers in the "ring/cube" afforded them, that an installation artist takes advantage of boxing's spatial confines to study the notion of painting (playing on the term "canvas") and the nature of public persona. In Part Three, Scott studies boxing literature, examining in rapid succession authors such as Tristan Tzara, Paul Eluard, Vladimir Nabokov, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Joyce Carol Oates, among others. Scott focuses on two themes in the literary excerpts he selects: the paradoxical relationship between pain and friendship and the use of boxing as a mechanism to negotiate modern masculinity.
This last section ties up what could be considered the work's strongest and most persistent theme: boxing and gender. Early on Scott notes: "the satin material [worn by boxers] added a touch of feminine glamour both to the state of purposeful undress . . . and to the otherwise relentlessly masculine ethos of the sport" (21). He later considers Shelley MacDonald's assertion that the ring can be viewed as a feminine maternal space that is reappropriated [End Page 291] by the boxer as phallic male. Finally, he looks at boxing as a means to reaffirm masculine values following two world wars and again as a form of masculine reaffirmation for middle-aged men over the last two decades. Scott concludes: "Boxing continues to hold a deep appeal for the masculine psyche, the charmed circle of the square ring exerting a fascination that for some can be exorcised only through a physical involvement within it" (138).
The book's short chapters are augmented by a large number of impressive black and white prints of artistic boxing posters, paintings, photos (include several of the author in boxing gear), sculptures, antique vases, etc. These add to the book's collectability and, given its insistence on visual representation, to the book's readability, particularly for readers not steeped in the traditions of art history or boxing. In addition, a number of memorable quips from authors who share a fascination for boxing punctuate the book. My favorite may be this one by Gerald Early: "Boxing is a form of kitsch, which explains why so many intellectuals have been attracted to it" (131).
The choice of works studied does seem a bit scattershot at times and I often wished the author would take more time to savor some of the stunning photos and artwork boxing has inspired. Scott's approach could have also benefitted from more theoretical grounding (perhaps from Pierre Bourdieu, who...