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Art in football

This content is provided by the 49ers Museum Education Program.


The portrayal of sports in art has been a part of the creative world since its conception. From the Ancient Greek sculptures that display glorified athleticism from the Greek Olympia games, to the countless paintings that have been created portraying iconic athletes of years gone by, art and sports are uniquely joined together. For over a century, art and design have played an important part in American football. Whether seen on a simple scorecard or on a multi-page game program, visual art has always been part of the promotion and celebration of the game. Tickets, posters, football cards, paintings, pocket schedules, and a wide array of other artistic mediums (materials used to make an original work of art), are all examples of creative art and design that can be found in football.

Art defined

Before we focus on where we see art in football or how football influences art, we must first attempt to define the term. So, what exactly is art? It is very difficult to pinpoint an exact definition of art because it can been seen and interpreted differently by everyone. Art may be defined as a human-made expression or creative application of imagination that typically comes in the visual form of photographs, graphics, sculptures, carvings or paintings. Art can be a drawing, digital media, or a collection of miscellaneous items combined to create a three-dimensional work called an assemblage. Art can be felt on surfaces, can be heard in nature, or in music, and it is appreciated for its significance, beauty, and in the message it may convey.
Art can be found in many cultural institutions, like museums, galleries, libraries, churches, and can also be viewed in everyday objects, shapes, and buildings. Have you ever looked around your neighborhood for examples of art? You can see all types of art in roadside sign graphics, in the clothing that people wear, and even in the design of vehicles people drive. From the way people paint their homes to how front lawns are carefully manicured, art can be seen everywhere in the world around you—you just need to know how to look for it. Art can be found wherever your spirit of expression, compassion and communication want to find it. Museums are great places to see a variety of art. For example, the 49ers Museum presented by Sony displays art in a variety of ways. You can see principles of art in hand-sculpted statues and photographs of historic members of the 49ers, in team pennants (colorful flags that celebrate a sports team or its achievements) of past eras, in the front-page design of collectible game-day programs, and in the sleek form of the 49ers five Super Bowl trophies. It is also visible on the large screen in the 49ers Morabito Theatre and found in the unique architecture of the museum and Levi’s® Stadium.
Art can be expressed in many different forms and in variety of ways. You can see elements of art all around you in almost everything. ("Levi’s® Stadium," by Stanley Silver)
No matter where it is housed or viewed, art helps people develop and share ideas, as well as support them in developing language skills. Looking at and talking about art can also teach you important critical thinking skills like questioning, reflecting, observing, and analyzing. Art gets people talking to each other. What one person sees and feels in a piece of art may be very different than what another person sees. Art is more than what meets the eye, and it is how you individually interpret or understand what you see, even if it is not recognized or valued in the same way by another person. Art can be appreciated by some, and overlooked by others. Often times, art can trigger a memory or emotion from your own life experiences. The more you are personally involved with the works of art you see, the more interesting and meaningful that art will be.

Culture influences art

People who create art do so not only for the personal satisfaction it gives them, but also for its ability to communicate with others. Art provides an avenue to record an important event or honor an important person and gives them the ability to express their thoughts and feelings. Football, an important part of American culture, is a game that provides a very meaningful subject matter for art to be expressed because it can do all of the above.
Culture is defined as the customs, beliefs, and the arts of a particular group, society, time or place. Art is a very important part of our culture and society. If you look back into history, you can clearly see how art is more than what we can see, touch, smell or hear; it is also a reflection of the culture we live in.
The 49ers have been a strong influence on artwork created in the city of San Francisco and the Bay Area, because of the dramatic impact the team and the game has had on its culture. The art celebrates the culture’s love for the team, the game, and the historic moments that the 49ers have provided through the years. The Bay Area region’s interest in 49ers football reaches across generations, gender, geography, gender, and ethnicity. Wherever 49ers fans go and whoever they meet, the game of football can give them something in common—a shared interest. Football can give us a unique insight into American life and culture, and no matter what region you live in, at some level, the culture will share its passion for sports and such passion is reflected in the things they do and celebrate, especially in the art that is created.
Levi’s® Stadium has incorporated the Bay Area’s artistic heritage into every fabric of the stadium and 49ers games. By commissioning artists in the Bay Area to create original works of art and displaying them inside the stadium in its halls, club spaces, museum, and offices, Levi’s® Stadium becomes more than just a sports venue, it becomes a location to celebrate the Bay Area’s rich culture.
California’s vibrant Bay Area culture influenced and shaped the variety of artwork that is proudly displayed at Levi’s® Stadium ("Song and a Prayer," by Ben Alexy)

Elements of art

Every piece of art ever made includes certain design elements that make up any art composition (ingredients of how art is made). What are these art elements? The six elements of art are line, shape, form, color, texture, and space. If you have ever watched a 49ers football game, you cannot help but see elements of art in every aspect of the game. Below each element is defined with a specific example of how you can see it in football.
Line: A line is a continuous mark made on a surface which defines the position and direction of a design. Lines are a very important element of art, because in most types of art you need lines to create it. There are a lot of different types of lines and they have names that describe their places in space. There are straight lines, curvy lines, and even zig-zagged lines. Lines are a very important element in the game of football. Lines can be seen on the field to mark yardage, they are used to align thousands of seats at Levi’s® Stadium, and in the coaches’ playbooks, they are often seen in offensive and defensive plays created to provide direction for player movement and team strategy.
Shape: Shape is where you take a line and enclose it. There are a variety of shapes that can be created such as: circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. A shape is two-dimensional and flat and helps set it apart from its surroundings by its outline within a design. Geometric shapes can be chosen to make simple or complex designs in football. From the simple rectangular shape of the football field to the more complex elongated shape of the football, shapes provide the visual framework for the game to be played.
Form: Form is a three-dimensional shape that takes up space (or volume) that includes height, width and depth. Form is the structure of a design and how everything in the design looks like it's meant to go together. Cubes, spheres, pyramids, or cylinders are all examples of form. If you look at Levi’s® Stadium and see how it was built including a variety of forms to construct it, you can understand that form plays an important role in the physical space where the game is played.
Color: Color is the element of art that is seen when light hits and reflects off an object. Three properties of color are hue (name of a color), intensity (strength of a color) and value (lightness or darkness of a color). There are countless ways colors, and their properties, appear in the game of football. You can see an array of colors in the extravagant team banners presented and in the vibrant scoreboard graphics displayed on TV or at the game. There are countless ways colors and their properties appear in the game of football, from extravagant banners to the vibrant scoreboard graphics. Every NFL team is identified by different colors and each team has its jersey design and colors related to its organization’s culture. Colors also designate what teams are playing at home or away. 49ers colors are dramatically displayed during home games, where thousands of fans wear their jerseys in support of their hometown team. If you attend a 49ers home game, Levi’s® Stadium is turned into a colorful kaleidoscope of red and gold, filled with excited fans.
Texture: Texture is the feel of an object or surface. Have you ever run your fingers across a football? If you do, you can feel all the slightly raised bumps on the surface that are placed on the football to support the grip of the ball. Once you have felt objects like a football, you have a better understanding how something may feel if you see it represented artistically in a drawing or a painting.
Space: Space is the area above, around, and within an object that is created through light and shadow. In regards to artwork, the goal is to create the illusion of space in the piece by using color, shading, size of objects, and perhaps even leaving blank spaces to provide a different perspective. In football, space is defined by the combination of all of the elements above which provides the basic outline for where and how the game is played.
Every work of art encompasses at least one or more visual components of color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.
Just like in art, there are principles of design that influence how art is created, perceived, understood and valued. Some of the greatest artwork ever made first came from a basic design. Design is the process of deciding how something will be made, including how it will work and what it will look like. Whether it is information (as in the instance of designing a team logo) or function (as in the design of a football helmet), design is a powerful communication device. From the plays in the 49ers playbook to how Levi’s® Stadium was built, design is intricately involved in how the game is watched, played, and marketed. It is probably safe to say that you cannot separate art and design from the attractive aspects of the game of football—that is what makes it so alluring. Elements of art and design visually stimulate fans to continue watching the game with eager anticipation.

Levi’s® Stadium embraces art

Not only can you see the key elements of arts throughout the design of the game and the stadium in which it is played, you can also see these principles in the artwork influenced by the vibrant culture surrounding the Bay Area and its favorite team. The 49ers organization and Levi’s® understand that football is a sport that embraces the sights, sounds, colors, and emotions of the game, as well as the culture of the region in where it is played. This cultural influence is integrated in a meaningful way into, the design of the stadium and the experience of the fans inside it. .
One of the powerful ways that fans are engaged in the space is through the amazing art that is displayed at Levi’s® Stadium. The collection includes over two hundred pieces of original artwork created by twenty-three talented local Bay Area artists, and all pieces sharing a common tie to the area and to the 49ers. The various artwork displayed at the stadium was created with acrylic, enamel, oil, and pastel paints, as well as pen, ink, charcoal, stencil, metals, and it even includes various sculptures. This type of art compilation is called mixed media. Mixed media is the use of different art materials in the creation of one work or displayed in a collection of various artwork.
Over 200 pieces of artwork are showcased at Levi’s® Stadium. From paintings to mixed media assemblages, art is embraced and vividly portrayed in every section of the stadium.
The stadium houses multiple art galleries within various club and event spaces. Throughout the stadium, fans can view large scale life portraits of 49ers greats, and see picturesque works of iconic Bay Area landscapes and monuments. This impressive art collection allows the history of the 49ers and the Bay Area to be celebrated, but also inspires creativity and self-expression.

Can football be considered art?

Some people consider the game of football as an art in itself. Just like an artist, it takes skill, commitment and time to become a professional football player. Artists focus on building their skills with each piece they create, which is exactly how professional athletes focus their training on, developing their trade skills. In football, the plays orchestrated on the field can be considered, at times, as nothing short of a master piece. Designing effective football plays can be a real challenge, even for the most experienced coaches. It’s up to coaches to assess their opponent, analyze all the variables involved in the game, and make a well-informed decision on how to design where and how to deploy players in every circumstance. If they design the perfect play and put that play in action, at the right time, and for the right circumstance, it can be a beautiful sight to witness. In a way, the coach’s playbook is much like a painter’s canvas, where they can paint a picture that will help them win the big game. Legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh designed what is known as the Sprint Right Option play, which led to the most iconic and photographed moment in football history, known as “The Catch,” and ultimately influenced how the game was played in the future.
Not only can you see art in the plays drawn up, you can also see it the actions and movement in the game. The way a quarterback throws a perfect spiral and completes a fifty yard pass to a receiver despite the opposing team’s pressure and the distracting roar of the crowd, could be perceived as a perfect example of art in play. Football fans can see the beauty and art in the way the game is played and by the forms and actions of players on the field. Football has its own aspects of aesthetics (beauty) and creativity, but these aspects alone are not the only reason for it is considered as an art. Because the game of football provides opportunities for self-expression of fans, players and teams alike, the game itself transcends beyond being just another sporting event and allows it to be categorized as an engaging art form.
From the intricate way football is played to the beauty of how players move and perform, it has been argued that the game is an art form in itself. ("The Catch," by Liz Walsh)
Football and art have been intertwined since the creation of the game and with innovations in technology, new art forms are developing that will provide new mediums of art to highlight the game in a whole new and exciting way to ensure that football and art will continue to be connected for generations to come.
This content is provided by the 49ers Museum Education Program.

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