The Art Of Pitching
To celebrate the start of the new baseball season, I offer you the poem The Pitcher, by Robert Francis (1901-1987).
His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,
His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.
The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood.
Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.
Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.
The poem brings out a remarkable fact about the task of the pitcher, a task that is the very heart of baseball. It'd be easy to pitch the ball so that no batter can hit it. Just throw the ball away from the batter. But that's not allowed. You have to throw the ball to the batter so that he can have an honest chance of hitting it. You have to throw it so that it is, in some ideal sense, hittable. But then your job, as a pitcher, is to make sure that he doesn't hit it.
The pitcher throws, in Francis' phrase, "to be a moment misunderstood."
Pitching is a lot like art, in this respect, it seems to me.
Who can say what an artwork is about, what it is for, what it means? Artists, too, it seems to me, throw in a way to be a moment misunderstood.
Science, as a general rule, and in contrast, wears its significance on its sleeve. The statements of science are direct; and there is never any doubt, not really, about what science is after. Knowledge! The truth! The explanation! The facts!
Art is a different matter altogether. An artwork, like a pitcher, provides you something almost contradictory: unhittable hittables.
Note: "The Pitcher" appeared in The Orb Weaver by Robert Francis, Wesleyan University Press, 1961. It is published here with permission.
Alva Noë is a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, where he writes and teaches about perception, consciousness and art. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015). You can keep up with more of what Alva is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe
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