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  • AutorenbildMatthias Mayer

Language, abstract art, or: What can Parkour express?

Aktualisiert: 24. Juli 2022


We have no difficulty understanding that usually arts are some form of expression of the artist. We know for example, that a book is expressing some part of the authors, or that music is an expression of the musician. Also a painting can clearly indicate some of the artists "inner world" and can therefore easily be understood as an expression. In the article Sports or art? I have described the mechanism of expression roughly as such: Whenever the objective forms are shaped and influenced by the subjective content of the artist (the inner invisible experience), it is an expression. So, if the final picture is brought about or at least influenced by the inner subjective state of the artist, it qualifies as an expression. That is not hard to accept with concrete art. For example, if you see a painting of a beautiful landscape with a quiet and peacful atmosphere, or if you have a panting of war with a depressing atmosphere, it is easy to see what subjective content inspired the painter to paint the motive. These are obvious examples, and they are obvious, because they are concrete art.

Abstract arts

The difficulty begins when we think about abstract arts, like an abstract painting for example. We wonder: What information could that thing possibly carry? Abstract painting usually is just blots of colours, shapes and lines, without any concrete form. In contrast to concrete arts, abstract art has no obvious meaning that you could immediatley read from it. Additionally often the painter himself can´t tell you exactly what it means. Parkour also can be seen as an abstract art, it is just shapes in space and time, not illustrating something concrete. (Even though Parkour can also be concrete, but to avoid confusion, I will explain that later.). So can abstract art be an expression at all? And if so, what is the content that is being expressed?


First of all, we need to get a clearer picture of what abstractness means exactly. Something is abstract, if it has no objective representation. For example „harmony“ is an abstract concept, because there is no object which is harmony itself. Objects can be harmonious, but harmony itself is not a thing in the literal sense of thing, it is not an object. There is no harmony just standing around like a chair. Just so concepts like justice, beauty or happiness are not objects that we can see with the senses. Tree, stone and house, on the other side, are words relating to actual objects in the visible world. And so they are not abstract, they are concrete. Some people like to think of abstractness as being something foreign and far from practical daily experience, but the opposite is true. Abstractness is the closest thing to us, given that all feelings are abstract, and even experience itself is something completely abstract. You could say, that we are swimming in abstractness. It is our natural element.

Expression by inner preferance

Even though one is tempted to think about abstract art as a result of pure randomness (in which case it would truly contain no information whatsoever), usually the process of creating is not arbitrary, but an intuitive process which is lead by choices of inner preferance. What I mean by that: I think most artists are lead through the creation process by a vague feeling of which direction they need to go. Example: If an artist rather decides to use blue colour than the red one in a certain spot of the painting, he does so by an inner preferance. It might be unknown to him as to why he prefers it, he just feels that it fits more. The „it fits“ feeling indicates the right direction to him and so he adds and erases over and over again, until he feels that the image is completed. A feeling of satisfaction comes to him when he knows that it is done. But how come he has this feedback of „it fits“ and „it is done“? It is as if from the beginning on, the artist knew what he wanted to create, but was just not quite conscious of it. But all the time it was on the tip of his tongue so to say. And that is probably exactly what happens: The feeling of „it is done“ happens, when the artist feels that the outer form is an adequate representation of the subjective content which was behind his urge of expression. That content though unconscious and abstract, is yet specific. That is why there is a feeling of accomplishment, when the feedback of „it is done“, or „that´s it“ comes to him. In this case the final picture is not simply randomness, but the result of continual intuitive choices of preferance, and therefore stands in relation to some part of the artists subjective experience. And yet, we wonder, what concrete information such an abstract image could possibly carry?

Words words words

Now you probably want to put a finger on what it is exactly that can be expressed through abstract art, or even more specifically Parkour. Basically, you want to hear some words. And that is normal, as when we think about expression, we probably all think about our spoken and written language first. Because it is the most obvious and common tool to "share one´s mind", to express. We can simply say, what is going on in us, what ideas or feelings we have. We are so language oriented, that often we get tricked into believing that if we have a word for some thing, it is more of a something than things that don´t have words attached to it. As if unlabelled things were not real or do not exist. We seem to forget, that experience was there before spoken and written language. I would argue, that humans experience more than is expressable with words. You could also say, experience has a higher resolution than our spoken and written language – and therefore words are often very inaccurate and ineffective in expressing all that makes up the subjective human experience. And all too often, words just fail to adequaetly describe our inner world, our experience. We can easily recognize that music is often more precise in describing a feeling than just plain text. Just so, the mere lyrics of a song do not have the depth as the lyrics with sound. Here we touch the next point:

Non-spoken languages

There seems to be an inherent urge or an automatic function of human minds to express their inner invisible experience through the means of outer forms – which are not just words. It is probably not an accident that historically, language and arts appeared at roughly the same time – it is because they are basically manifestations of the same mechanism I guess. This expression urge finds its way for expression through all kinds of ways and means that seems to be suitable, leading to „useless“ behaviours such as dancing, music, painting, writing, different archtiectures and many more. All of these are languages.

Different languages have evolved that can express different things that make up humans inside experience. So, different languages are designed to carry different subjective content so to say. Maths for example is the result of people being engaged in thinking about abstract ideas like logic, law, order, relations and things alike. Over time this subjective experience of mankind has lead to a system of symbols, known as maths. Maths is a language that fulfills the necessary requirements that a language needs, to be capable to carry ideas of a mathematical nature. And it will evolve further, to be capable to encompass new ideas. Music is another non-spoken language, and it seems to express a different part of humans subjective experience than maths (even though they are somehow connected rumours say). It can carry emotions much better than maths (though I´m not a mathematician… I might be wrong). Languages enrich each other, for example mathematical concepts also brought a lot of new vocabulary to spoken language (words like addition, subtraction, fraction, potency, degrees, principle, etc). So languages refine each other. Also they can cross-over, so that the possibilities and precision of expression is even increased. For example written language, without pronounciation and body language can often be ambiguous, cause it is missing a great part. You know how cold casual text messages without emojis can sound. It is just through this multitude of languages that we unconsciously and consciously speak, that we can communicate and feel united, understand each other. People that have a particulary strong urge of expression we call artists.

Choice of language

Already the choice of language, is, just as with the abstract artist, a choice of preferance. I think people feel attracted to those languages, that are expressing those things, that correlate with what they have on the inside. It is obvious again, if you look at music. You can love Jazz, but absolutely not resonate with heavy metal, even though both are music. But they are expressing different vibes and you might just not feel the one vibe. You have no connection to it, you can´t feel it, you don´t have it inside of you, it is of no interest for you. Therefore you will start learning Jazz rather than heavy metal. And so it is, that Parkour people are somewhat movement lovers, but dancing can leave them completely cold. Yet, some Parkour people that are prone to dancing, might lean towards dancy Parkour. Can you see how the chosing of a language is already an act of indirect expression? (for a more detailed explanation of expression, check out: Parkour, sport or art). I think people feel attracted to those languages, that are expressing those things, that correlate with what they have on the inside. It is obvious again, if you look at music. You can love Hip Hop, but absolutely not resonate with heavy metal, even though both are music. But they are expressing different vibes and you might just not feel the one vibe. You have no connection to it, you can´t feel it, you don´t have it inside of you. And so it is, that Parkour people are somewhat movement lovers, but dancing can leave them completely cold. Yet, some Parkour people that are prone to dancing, might lean towards dancy Parkour. Can you see how the chosing of a language is already an act of indirect expression? (for a more detailed explanation of expression, check out: Parkour, sport or art).

So, what is it then that Parkour can express???

Actually I wanted to finish the topic by the rather brutal statement: Parkour is expressing that which makes you feel like doing Parkour. But maybe you will blame me for playing with words and not saying anything. But you would not be so suspicious when I would say, feeling like dancing makes you dance.

So I will try to pinpoint some feelings, that we do have words for: Some forms of Parkour are all about aesthetics, composing, sort of sculpturing beautiful lines into the environment of spots. It points to an aesthetic feeling in the back of it. There is such a thing as aesthetic feeling. Feeling of harmony, beauty, order. The feeling when music is nice is aesthetic feeling. Those feelings lead to other aesthetical art forms, too. That alone is a pretty big chunk of Parkour already. A Parkour style which is centered around metrics (bigger further more) would not be a suitable expression of the aesthetic feeling, and so there is probably another feeling behind the bigger-further-Parkour-style. Something like competitive feelings, the need to feel increase, etc. (I´ve dealt with this in the article Parkour – sports or art?) Some Parkour people are more about the complexity of challenges on a mechanical level. Parkour to them is like solving riddles, lock-picking, crossword puzzles :D So, whatever feeling is behind that drive, it might be related to the feeling of those Parkour riddle-sovlers. It might be the same feeling which makes mathematicians have joy while solving mathematical problems. Then there is of course also the emotional part to Parkour. Some Parkour styles, you can see easily, are coloured by emotions. It can be feelings of elegance (yes, it is a feeling) or more martial animalistic feelings. Mystical feelings, coolness, unserious feelings (Polianskii) and basically any feeling that you can have while moving. You can even feel Hip Hop while moving. As Hip Hop itself is already an expression of a certain range of subjective content. Then, another big one: flow. Flow is something that is feelable, too, just like musicians can feel rhythm and melodies in their inner ear. By the way, Mandalas, or any of these ordered patterns that mankind has created, all point to the feeling of order. And flow, could just as well be seen as ordered movement. And then you can even feel twisty or linear, swingy or jumpy, playful or straight-forward. You can feel creative, even if creativity is commonly not really seen as a feeling. But, anything which gets labelled as creative is usually just the result of that which is prior to the creative process: A certain mood which makes people play around and do unorthodox things. Maybe curiosity. A feeling that makes humans do all kind of weird stuff that lead to all sort of crazy discouveries! Also Parkour can be crossed with other channels of expression than movement. For example with videography. If the mover is also about the picture the movement creates in the camera, he will not only think about the movement, but also in what way a line is filmed, what angle, and also at what spot, and to what music.


If you had difficulty of seeing Parkour as an expression, I think after considering the points mentioned in this article you can more easily understand what I mean when I say Parkour is a language of expression. Just as any other language of humans. But, we have to also consider, that Parkour can be a language, but it doesn´t have to. Sports for example are usually designed in a way, that they cannot be seen as a language anymore. That is because in a language the form, the objective, must be subordinated to the subjective, because it is the subjective which arranges the form. It is my thought, which arranges these words into the proper order, so that they convey what I mean. As soon as the outer form is predefined, for whatever reason, and therefore independent of the subjective, it loses its status as language. It is incapable of expressing. If the words and their order would follow a preset, I could not use it to communicate anymore. But the sporty approch to movement is not the only non-expressive form of movement. For example movement can also become non-expressive, if it becomes a mere habit, a never changing routine which you are doing in a specific way just because you have always done it that way. Or if it follows ideological rules ("This is Parkour, and this is not"), or if it is dimmed by mental laziness, always doing what you are good at already, instead of following your inner preferance, (which could require to learn new things). So, not all Parkour is expressive. There are shades. The complete movement picture of a mover is the the outcome of a great mix of things, a multidimensional image. Some of it carries subjective content, some of it doesnt. Some movers are very expressive, some are not at all. It can even switch within a mover from session to session.

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