Surely the most distinctive release among the crop of 2017 football books is “The Art of Football.” It’s a visual treasure trove that uses more than 200 works of art and illustration, including some by Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington, to depict football as it was played in its pioneering early years (think late 1800s and early 1900s). Michael Oriard, the author, has previously written four books about the cultural history of football. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in American literature and culture at Oregon State University. As an athlete, he played football at the University of Notre Dame and with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. With his latest book, Oriard provides an expert tour of many rarely-seen artworks that captured the essence of a rough-and-tumble new sport for a curious, TV- and radio-less public.
Here’s an excerpt from The Art of Football:
“Football was conspicuously ‘excessive’ from nearly the beginning. Its players were ‘giants’ (six-footers, tops, but size is relative), swooned over by lovely maidens, and glorified by an over-lively press. Their sponsoring colleges, elite institutions of higher learning, seemed engaged in something closer to managing a Circus Maximus than to training the nation’s scholars and leaders. Above all, a supposed game played by sons of gentlemen often looked more like an organized brawl, punctuated occasionally by a thrilling kick or a run down the field. Artists attuned to this strangeness had to find ways to represent it in their art. A common solution was to employ elements of distortion and exaggeration – what could be called an ‘aesthetic of excess’ – that pushed against the boundaries of straightforward representation more typical of popular illustration.”