I heard a commentator on NPR this morning point out that sport is the only entertainment field where excellence is rewarded. If you’re really good at a sport, you have a far better chance of being financially compensated for your skills than if you were a musician, actor, artist, etc.
At first that statement really bummed me out, but then I realized it’s kind of a crock. Of course sport rewards excellence. Sport is the most simplistic of fields; excellence can be most easily defined there, even quantized. It’s almost binary: you’re either very fast or you’re not, you’re very agile or you’re not, you can throw a 90mph fastball or you can’t. Despite what the classical music crowd might have you to believe, music is not like that. Just because you can play “Flight of the Bumblebee” at an insane tempo does not mean that you are musically excellent. “Excellence” is a variable quality. Bob Dylan is excellent. Itzhak Perlman is excellent. Try quantizing that. The same goes for artists and actors. There’s a great deal more relativity to the notion of “excellence” in those fields.
I forget the commentator’s name, but his perspective seems common to older generations. I gather that their world seemed aesthetically simpler than ours. Perhaps it was less diverse. I am reminded of a great conversation that I heard on one of my dad’s old tapes of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. He had an older gentleman and a young woman talking about music and the older gentleman rambles on about classical music and how it represents beauty and truth, and the girl just says “but you can’t jitterbug to it.”