The History of a Moment: Quick Connoisseurship in Art, Sports and the Olympics

It struck me recently that to really appreciate a moment you need to understand the history of it, all the twists and turns, triumphs and tribulations, and the work that has gone into creating that opportunity.

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The Euro 2012 tournament kicks off later today and as a very casual football fan I need a bit of a helping hand to get into the teams, their stories and to appreciate what I am looking at and what to look out for. With this in mind I decided to invest £4.95 in a magazine/guide that gives me a summary of the stadium, teams and players. When did magazines get so expensive!? The thing is without any expertise you don’t know what you’re looking at. Take for example a cricket match – I have huge difficulties getting into this as I just don’t know what’s going on at any level of detail that would make it interesting viewing. This first started sinking in when I found myself watching Formula 1 on TV and actually enjoying it! What was happening? I thought the main reason for this was that I had watched the build up to it: the producers did a great job of going around the track turn by turn, explaining the expertise and difficulties involved, explaining the stories of the drivers and getting their perspectives through interviews, debating tyre wear, the changing weather conditions and the various refuelling strategies that could make or break the race. I was in. I was no longer watching cars going round the track, I could appreciate the sport and what was happening in the race. I had become a quick connoisseur.

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I recently visited Amsterdam and two of the highlights were the Van Gogh museum and Rembrandt’s house. I really enjoyed these because they both told a story that focused on the artist rather than a few paintings. Unlike a gallery we were not shown a series of master pieces to gawp at, instead we were told more about the artists’ development, what they experimented with, what was going on in their personal lives, how they lived, the inspirations and pressures on their work, and how their work developed. I am not an art connoisseur, and in the past I have been frustrated by the attention given to paintings when it doesn’t seem too technically demanding – the sort of thing that triggers the though “I could do that”. But it isn’t just about that painting, it’s also about the history of the moment – all the work that led up to the painting. It’s not a one off, or a fluke, it’s part of a wider body of work that has been systematically developed.

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In our fast food nation we’re probably too used to having things on a plate and not putting much effort in. Vegetables and meat come cheap now and we have little appreciation of the efforts that have gone into creating them. Indeed, sports coverage does an excellent job of bringing us up to speed in the latest dramas for sporting events, and museums are starting to bring art and other installations to life by getting people to appreciate the story behind the moment.

We managed to get Olympic tickets… and we currently know very little about beach volley ball, women’s football, and Paralympic table tennis… but we know to appreciate these things more when we see them we’ll have to do some quick connoisseurship and swat up on the sport, the teams, the players and their journey. Getting to grips with the history of the moment.

I’m now thinking about wine and cheese, but that’ll have to wait for another time.

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