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In the most recent JUGGLE magazine from the IJA, Jason Garfield wrote a very articulate, rousing, and possibly controversial article entitled “What’s Good for Juggling?” It was part of the magazine’s editorial section entitled “Perspectives” and featured the “JGs” from the sport and art camps – Jason Garfield and Jay Gilligan.
Jason Garfield, for the most part, is a gifted logician and a seemingly tolerant individual. He opens his second paragraph by celebrating the merit of open-mindedness, “in most cases that don’t involve eating snails.” You can argue all you want about whether Jason Garfield is getting (gulp) “nicer” recently – an accusation during his 2006 IJA Championships Q&A – but no one can say that he doesn’t “live and let live”. And the scope I get from Jason’s article is that he kinda wishes that the “art camp”, if you want to call it that, would follow suit and see sport juggling as another “path” in a communal forest in which we all enjoy hiking.
I’m probably going to piss some people off here but this is exactly how I’ve always viewed religion – as a collection of paths all leading up the same mountain – the mountain of trying to make sense of this life we’ve been given. Some people, usually drowning in intolerance and/or fear, claim that they belong to the “only true” or “correct” religion. The paradox is that these people are usually far less godly than those who have opened their mind and tolerated people of all walks of life.
I’m not trying to say juggling is a religion – just that there are parallels we can draw when talking about tolerance for different viewpoints. Jason Garfield’s 2006 Championships definition of juggling (an exercise that Matt Hall loves to do when MCing) was “whatever you want it to be.” This has always stuck with me because, like many, at the time I saw him as the embodiment of everything “anti-art” in the juggling world and his definition surprised me.
Having matured since then, my views of Jason have dramatically changed. I see Jason not as a “sport juggler” but as a human who knows what he likes and by god went out and created something original. Now how many of us can say the same for ourselves?
Jason isn’t a diehard evangelist. He isn’t going around knocking on doors and trying to “convert” people to sport juggling. He’s simply making it available, through his WJF organization, to those who already or think they might share similar opinions about the best way to enjoy juggling.
“Rather than complain, I created something that I liked in juggling.” Again, I have to applaud Jason for this stance. Complaining about A is far less productive than actively creating an alternative to A. Jason understood the other options on the market of juggling competitions, didn’t like what he saw, and decided to create something that spoke to him and hopefully others. I doubt Jason created the WJF to become rich/famous. He did it because he saw a large gaping hole in the juggling community and decided to fill it.
Division is an ugly thing, and almost comical when it exists in something as non-threatening as juggling. Cliché as it may be, I really don’t see why we can’t all just get along. Let’s celebrate our differences and get over it already – agree to disagree. I’ll admit that in the beginning I saw the WJF as a “threat” – I’m not really sure why. Jason makes it clear in his article that he is not “forming a new country. People are free to not participate in the WJF events, so these rules only affect those who agree with them or feel it’s a fair tradeoff to voluntarily attend a WJF event.” Now I’m very happy that the WJF exists. As a hobbyist, I love that such a different convention exists for people who like sport-style juggling. As a professional entertainer, I’m selfishly happy that the best technical juggling talent is being encouraged to not be traditionally “entertaining”. I personally choose not to attend WJF conventions because I don’t think the overall cost justifies what I’d be able to get out of the experience. I’m not boycotting the WJF as some sort of testament to “art”. It’s just not really my bag – I don’t expect Jason Garfield to fly across the country to see the Shoebox Tour.
I don’t believe that juggling is inherently an art. Instead I believe that juggling is an incredible medium with which to create art. Read that twice – it’s a very important point.
So everything’s rosy between Jason and me? Well, not exactly. Jason makes a statement near the end of the article which I think underlines a fundamental difference in philosophy.
“[But] I don’t think juggling is an art. I think jugglers who later on in life want to be artists try to use the juggling skills they learned to represent themselves as artists, but the juggling isn’t necessary for that.”
The juggling in my opinion is absolutely necessary! I was an artist long before I was a juggler. (I’d like to say I was a juggler long before I was a juggler too, but that’s a subject for another time). However, equipped with the juggling skills that I’ve built over 7 years, I am now able to create art that I could not create using any other medium. For example, juggling has allowed me to “illustrate” music in a way I couldn’t envision possible with any other medium on earth. The technique itself may not be art, but its combination with music, dance, expression, and energy enable one-of-a-kind art to exist.
If you strip everything away from juggling (competitions, conventions, audience, costumes, facial expressions – basically everything but the human body) you are left with, in my opinion, nothing more than an amusement. That’s right, I said it. Juggling in its purest form is an amusement. Why else would a gorilla juggle by himself with no one watching if not to simply amuse himself with the laws of gravity? Perhaps that’s something we can all agree on. Juggling can be a sport, an art, or a circus skill. But can’t we all meet up again at the top of the mountain when it’s all over and agree with a laugh that the journey was damn sure amusing?