The Relationship between Physical Exercise and Creativity

Physical exercise is not normally associated with creativity and art, but what happens when the two fields collide? Why can it be such a powerful combination?

Mathew Barney used training principles from weightlifting and American football to inspire his Drawing Restraint series of artworks. He recalls how the human body needs to be stressed in order to continue to grow and develop. Any intelligent training strategy forces an individual’s body to improve gradually over time by continually breaking down and repairing itself through physical exertion and the correct nutrition. He applied these ideas both physically and metaphorically to this series of artworks. Elements of physical stress, restraint and progression were self-imposed to force Barney to react, adapt and strive to find a new way to complete and improve each drawing.

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Sport teaches discipline and structure. These are vital cornerstones of any artistic practice. The archaic idea of a stroke of creative genius striking an artist at whim is a fable. It conveniently likes to ignore the hundreds of thousands of hours that the artist had put in previously, all for the sake of a good story. It simply does not work that way. Yves Klein and Albert Camus both talked about how their sports background had influenced their practices in relation to discipline. The former, a Judo black belt, and the latter, the goalkeeper for the Algerian National football team, were both disciplined and incredibly innovative in their respective ideas and works.

The idea of a journey as the structure and inspiration for an artwork is an ancient concept, and one that inextricably ties physical exercise and art together. From the wandering Chinese poets of antiquity, to present day Land Artists such as Richard Long, physical movement and creativity have been interlinked. Each journey becomes a line through a landscape, a way to experience a place and a method to enable ideas to coagulate gradually and naturally. It allows for the simultaneous combination of thinking and doing, an important part of any creative practice.

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Great art takes influence from anywhere, and sincere artists make work about what they know. Transferring patterns, forms, behaviours, principles and techniques from one area of your life to another is a productive way to give you fresh eyes and new perspectives. Barney, Klein and Camus are all examples of the talents of great artists to intelligently re-apply inspiration that comes from even the most unlikely sources.

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