On a day when the seemingly ever-present rainclouds have parted, when the breeze carries the fragrance of flowering trees and a whiff of barbecue, when the sounds, scents, and sensations of a summer afternoon – and not just any summer afternoon, but the 4th of July – all come together in one extended moment of synchronous harmony, that is a spontaneous work of art.
But it was the baseball game that clinched it. No one can deny that baseball is partly performance, especially for the fielding team, with the pitcher as star, carrying the show center stage, the infielders as ensemble cast, and the outfielders as supporting players. And no live performance would be complete without an audience. It’s the very essence of theater – an exchange of energy between and among performers and viewers.
Except at a ball game, there’s only the barest of scripts, with plenty of room for improvisation; the story arc is revealed only after the game ends; no one, not even the players, knows how it will end; and the spectators are divided by team loyalty. And when the game is played by young men at the peak of adolescence – no longer boys but not yet men, still gangly and awkward in their changing bodies, still on the learning curve of baseball mastery – one senses in the performance an element of discovery. They’re old enough to have reliable skills, but still inexperienced enough to come up with a few exciting surprises.
Such a convergence of setting, circumstances, and sensations could be – and has been – the subject of Norman Rockwell paintings. But watching teens play baseball at the Amherst Regional High School field on the 4th of July was way better than looking at a painting. No static image, no matter how expertly rendered, can evoke the full spectrum of sensory experience. You can’t smell the roast turkey at the center of Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom From Want” any more than you can feel the ocean breezes at a performance of “South Pacific.” And no baseball image can replicate the distinctive ringing crack of bat on ball.
In the ephemeral moment, art exists without having to be captured for the future. Performance artists embody this sensibility. Tibetan monks who create vibrant, intricate mandalas out of colored sand also understand this aspect of artmaking. They spend days patiently, meticulously arranging sand into deeply symbolic patterns – and when the mandala is finished, they destroy it. Although it may be recorded in photographs, it exists only for that extended moment in time.
In small-town New England for the extended moment of July 4th, with perfect weather and darn good baseball, the concept of art for art’s sake was evident in every living tableau.