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The Art of Tebowing

Our chief art critic, Jerry Saltz, on the viral touchdown celebration as performance art.

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Probably only an art-worlder like me could assign deeper meaning to something as simple and silly as Tebowing. But, to us, anytime people repeat a stance or a little dance, alone or together, we see that it can mean something. Imagistic and unspoken language is our thing. When people in stadiums do the Wave, it’s the group-mind collective organism spontaneously organizing itself to express an emotion, pass time, and reflect the joy of seeing the rhythms of many as one, a visual rhyming or music in which everyone senses where the motion is going. We smile and wave, too.

You can only imagine what we’re doing with Tebowing. To us, it’s not just genuflection. It’s not even about piety. We love the way it echoes so many poses from art history—Rodin’s Thinker (whose bod is about as buff as Tebow’s), saints in supplication, Virgin Marys in prayer, Renaissance shepherds at the foot of the baby Jesus, hieroglyphs, or Greek vases come to life. Then there’s the kick of the Du­champ­ian punning on Tebow’s name. Change one letter in Tebow, and you have “To bow.”

Tebowing for us touches on several physical-philosophical-emotional fault lines. Anyone who assumes the pose is slowing down time, somehow slipping outside normal space. Someone Tebowing is in a private freeze frame, a still point in a turning storm. Yet it’s not something done in private. Tebowing is (jargon alert!) performative—something done for an audience, and only in public. It’s nonverbal visual communication.

It also splits the difference between irony and sincerity. The person doing it knows he’s doing it, that it’s done to be seen, and that the audience grasps that and understands where it comes from. (There’s that hive mind again.) There are multiple layers of built-in knowingness. Yet the sincere side of Tebowing is always present in the history of the pose, what it once meant, the way Tebow means it utterly. All of this adds to the simultaneous fissuring between the pose, the poser, the moment, and the spectators. I only wish the Jets would sign Usain Bolt so he could do that insane Apollo-God-the-Archer thing he did at the Olympics. I’d bow.


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