Art and Athletes: Art Talk with George Nock
George Nock with his sculpture, SILK. Bronze with lacquer finish. Photo by Derek Blanks
"Theirs are the eyes of visionaries." ---George Nock, on artists
Artists and athletes generally inhabit opposite ends of the stereotype spectrum: the jocks just don't mix with the poets and painters. But a few individuals are helping redefine this notion, and have created worlds where art and athletics reside happily side by side. George Nock is one such example. The Atlanta resident first gained recognition as a football player, helping lead Morgan State University to four CIAA championships before turning pro in 1969. Nock was a running-back for the New York Jets for three years before heading to the Washington Redskins. After a knee injury sidelined him after his first season in DC, Nock returned to a passion that preceded his love for football: art. Today, Nock is an accomplished painter and sculptor: his work has been shown across the country and can be found in the private collections of notables such as Joe Namath, Evander Holyfield, and Vanessa Williams. His work, which covers themes ranging from jazz musicians and dancers to wildlife and athletes, captures the spirit and energy which guide Nock's life. We caught up with the artist via e-mail to talk about his early experiences with art, the overlap of art and athletics, and how whether we realize it or not, art is all around us.
NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience/engagement with the arts?
GEORGE NOCK: My earliest experience occurred when my mother shared my simple drawings of cowboys and Indians with her friends and neighbors when I was only three-and-a-half years of age. This occurred around the same time that the nuns at my daycare asked my mom, “Let us raise little George in the church to extend his art aptitude."
NEA: What's your version of the artist's life?
NOCK: My version of an artist’s life is a focused life, whereby you have the freedom to express your feelings, bring your visions to fruition, and share these with family, colleagues, friends, and the world. It is often a lonely life, for the creative process requires concentration and often entails a process that requires a singleness of purpose. What some call work, an artist is striving to conform the medium to his/her vision and the work is transformed into a journey. The lifestyle of an artist can be as simple as a hermit or as flamboyant as a rock star, surrounded by throngs of people. It is the countenance of the individual to go with what works best for them. If an artist can target their creative side only, and leave “the business of art” to others (monitored of course---my mom did not raise a fool), this would be an ideal artist’s life.
NEA: How did you get into working in visual arts? And what was it like to transition from football to being a full-time artist?
NOCK: From the age of three-and-a-half through my years in college and pro-football, I sketched four to five days a week. I sustained a knee injury that would not allow me to run in the style I was accustomed to. Unable to perform as I had before, retirement was inevitable. After I retired from football, I was goaded into doing an art show, and subsequently found out that I knew nothing about art presentation. I learned so much at this first show that many of the principles and suggestions by other artists are still with me today. The small success I received at this show spurred my taste to draw more, increase my subject matter, and take my presentations and artwork to a more professional level.
NEA: Do you see any similarities or common traits between athletes and artists?
NOCK: There are many common traits between athletes and artists. The first are dreams, wishes, and aspirations, for without any one of these to spur you on, what’s the point. The passion that is needed to fulfill aspirations is needed for the sacrifices incurred in pursuing our objectives. Art and athletics also require discipline and singleness of purpose.
NEA: Why do you think we---the general public---need visual art? Why do you need visual art?
NOCK: The general public does not realize how much visual arts play a part in their lives. Every time they open their eyes, they are inundated with art: in advertising, TV, movies, shapes of objects, books, magazines, etc. Fine art takes the public into another realm of appreciation. The public needs art as well as art needs the public; both thrive when appreciated. I need art as it is a part of my fiber. I was blessed with a gift and I am compelled to share it with the world. My mission and blessings are a result of art and of following my dreams and sharing with the world.
NEA: How did your residency at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center come about, and how important was it to your art practice?
NOCK: My residency at Pyramid was a joyous re-enlightenment of etching. The experience reminded me of why I stopped etching many years ago. The residency allowed me to get into a discipline I enjoyed in the past. The sessions rekindled the printmaker in me, and I will include etchings in future portfolios. My past experience with [Pyramid Executive Director] Jose Dominguez on other art projects in DC have kept us in touch with each other over the years, and I am proud of his progress in the world of art.
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.?
NOCK: You can define artworks as a style of “this or that," as a way of differentiating one piece of art from another. The measure of artwork is still subjective, with the experience of the artist and command of the medium being a measure of accomplishment. Because tastes vary, and underwriting of the arts is completely subjective and in vogue, the value of art is skewed. On the other hand, the value of art is extremely important to all of us because studies show it can even increase our IQ by 15 percent.
NEA: What do you think is the role of the artist in the community?
NOCK: The role of an artist is to reflect and record our existence past, present, and future by using the elements of our world to illustrate world experiences and possibilities in all styles of genre and media.
NEA: Conversely, what is the responsibility of the community to the artist?
NOCK: The community should take on the role of supporting the arts fully, for the artists have their unique ways of interpreting our history, ideas, and experiences. Theirs are the eyes of visionaries, for they see from another perspective and need the underwriting support to continue. For without the arts [we are] a dead planet.
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?
NOCK: One of the best ways to get young people interested in art is to reinstate the arts prominently into every school system, whereby all students would at least be introduced to [visual] art, music, and the performing arts as they learn about the world. Pay teachers much more whereby a male who is the traditional breadwinner can raise a family with pride and dignity [as a teacher]. After all, it is a worthwhile profession that can shape our way of thinking with far-reaching benefits.