Monday, October 18, 2010

Is Bullfighting Art?

Spain has moved the responsibility for overseeing bullfighting from its ministry of the interior to the ministry of culture. The idea is the activity ought to be considered art rather than sport. I am not interested here in ethical questions of the legitimacy and cruelty of the activity, but rather how we ought to think of it.

On one hand, hunting, fishing, and rodeo activities are sports. Isn't bullfighting just an exotic cousin? The goal is similar in that if done well, an animal is conquered.

But, of course, the means are clearly different in that one does not camouflage oneself -- quite the opposite -- and the goal of bullfighting is not merely the death of the animal, but to be maximally graceful in all aspects of the ritual. It is the grace, not the death that is the criteria of judgment of success or failure. Does that make the activity art or just a different kind of sport, like figure skating to speed skating?

Or is it something completely different? The word ritual does seem to apply, is it a religious ritual for a civil religion? Or is it something else?