Art and Athletes: Art Talk with Desmond Mason
Desmond Mason paints live for guests at the 2011 POP! ARTini fundraiser. The finished piece was auctioned at the end of the evening with proceeds benefitting Allied Arts. Photo by Bryan Cook.
"A thriving art community is the heartbeat of any city; there's no question about that."
Even as he was distinguishing himself on the basketball court at Oklahoma State University, Desmond Mason---who was drafted into the NBA in 2000 by the Seattle SuperSonics---was studying art history and hoping to become an art teacher. Since retiring from pro basketball, the former NBA Slam Dunk Champion has opened his own art gallery in Oklahoma City, regularly hosted an annual art show, and made a habit of selling out gallery shows that feature his boldly hued paintings. We spoke with the busy artrepreneur via e-mail about painting full court.
NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience/engagement with the arts?
DESMOND MASON: The earliest experience I remember with the arts was drawing profile pics of people on my brown paper bag-covered books, drawing trucks in the mini-truck era, and creating and drawing all kinds of shoes.
NEA: What's your version of the artist's life?
MASON: My version of an artist's life is for an artist to have the ability to create freely without scrutiny, judgement, or criticism. There's no such thing as a struggling artist if you're doing what you love and expressing how you feel through your art.
NEA: You studied art in college, but you became better known for your professional success as a basketball player. Do you remember the moment when you thought, "Oh, I can also be a successful professional artist"?
MASON: I didn't have that thought until I sold out my first---32 pieces---at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee. I had come off of my show the year before [for which] I called and had an art critic come and give me an honest review. He had never seen my work or heard of me and gave me a good review. I had always seen art as a release from basketball, but from that day my confidence was pretty high.
NEA: Do you see any similarities or common traits between athletes and artists?
MASON: I think there are quite a few similarities between athletes and artists; one of the main ones is creativity. In sports you have to [be as] creative and grow in your craft as with art.
NEA: Why do you think we---the general public---need visual art? Why do you need visual art?
MASON: I really don't think we as a community understand the importance of visual art and artists. [Art] allows our world to grow and evolve....Every major architectural building in the world, every statue, every monument, even down to the design of computers and phones has a visual arts component.
I need visual art because it makes me happy and inspires me.
NEA: What do you think is the role of the artist in the community?
MASON: The role of the artist in the community is to offer inspiration for their peers and the next generation of artists.
NEA: Conversely, what is the responsibility of the community to the artist?
MASON: The responsibility of the community to the artist, I think, is to allow the artist artistic freedom, but I feel it's the responsibility of the artist to be respectful to specific situations and scenarios.
NEA: You are very committed to supporting the arts in Oklahoma City, both through your gallery and through your work with the local arts council. Why do you think it's important to have a thriving arts scene in a local community?
MASON: Oklahoma City is one of the fastest developing cities in the U.S. It has a great community and officials that are wiling to [levy taxes] for the betterment of the city and state. The major energy companies---such as Chesapeake, Devon, Sandrige, etc.---have stepped up to the challenge to better Oklahoma, which is allowing opportunities for a young energetic art community to grow. A thriving art community is the heartbeat of any city; there's no question about that.
NEA: How do you think we should measure or define the value of artworks---whether it's a work of visual art, or a performance, etc.?
MASON: True art is about experiencing emotion, and trying to place a value on someone else's emotions is pretty tough. I've always said that art is appreciated on an individual basis, and the value lies in the individual, which is where the masses originate.
NEA: How can we get young people interested in the arts, beyond what they might see on American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance?
MASON: I think getting young people interested in the arts again [means] putting more focus on it our school systems. The arts are slowly fading away in the education system, and it's hurting the children not allowing them to express themselves in an artistic manner.