The Art of Football: Visual Culture and the Beautiful Game, 1992-2016

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Luke Healey


This thesis addresses relationships between art, aesthetics and men's associationfootball, and seeks to frame the latter as a source and locus of aesthetic variation and dissensus, in opposition to its typical presentation as a source of fleeting and purely physical pleasures. Its focus is the contemporary scene of global elite football, whose roots I argue can most effectively be traced back to the creation of the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League in 1992.Through four chapters encompassing multiple case studies, I examine some of theaesthetic conceptions that are embedded within contemporary discourses around football, before analysing artworks and aesthetic practices that reproduce the game in various forms. Throughout the study, I am interested in bringing into focus the border- line between the cultural fields of art and football. I frame all of the objects, practices and artefacts that I analyse as sites of inter-section between these two rival sets of discursive formations, as well as offering theoretical and methodological reflections on the cultural dynamics that lead to these formations being considered as distinct fields in the first place. My principal research questions can be expressed as follows: what intellectual processes come into play when objects in the field of contemporary football approach the field of contemporary art and vice-versa, and what forces are active in each field that prevent this rapprochement from achieving total fulfilment?In order to approach these questions, my thesis is effectively divided into two halves.In the first half I use concepts derived from the study of art and visual cultures to bring to light some of the aesthetic debates that occur within football's interpretative community. In chapter one I consider the manner in which aesthetics and sporting ethics become intertwined around the controversial issue of "diving", while in chapter two I demonstrate the ways in which the animated highlight GIF holds in suspension notions of novelty, boredom and individual genius. In the second half of the thesis I analyse a number of artistic projects which address football - Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's film Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait, Maider López's participatory performance Polder Cup and Craig Coulthard's landscape intervention Forest Pitch, among others - by reading their aesthetic propositions against some of those that are rooted in the game itself. Addressing the functions that these works apply to the popular expressive content that already adheres to football can, I argue, be instructive in considering the cultural politics of contemporary art more generally. Finally, I conclude that contemporary football is a prominent site of complex aesthetic negotiations that warrants greater attention from the inter-discipline of visual studies.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2017