the Artistry dilemma


Artistry, or the lack thereof, is one the hottest topics in gymnastics.

Bemoaning the demise of artistry – in combination with the assurance that everything was much better in the 80s – is something of full-time job for a lot of gym fans. While fans have the luxury of sitting back and yelling “are the judges blind?!!! That routine should have been hammered for lack of artistry!” at their computer screens, the FIG has to come up with actual rules that can be applied by actual judges in actual competitions.

The FIG Academy Program organised two artistry and music workshops during the World Championships in Antwerp. One for the coaches and another one for the judges. The workshop was run under the title „It’s time to put the artistry back into gymnastics!“ and was the first of a number of workshops planned for the Olympic cycle. …

The All Around – All About Artistry

That’s a fascinating read. Thanks Nora.

Lasse Nettum of the Norwegian College of Sports Science and Lyn Heward from Cirque du Soleil presented.

Uncle Tim seems to be struggling to document the Evolution of Artistry in both Women’s and Men’s Gymnastics.

There’s no solution, so far as I can see.

You can’t consistently quantify “artistry”.

Final scores in competition should be valid, reliable and consistent competition-to-competition. They never will be if Artistry is factored.

 I propose a SOLUTION. In future judges should not consider artistry in scoring. Instead, simply applying the code as written. Deducting for poor form and line. Feet crossed during twisting would be deducted. Poor body position would be deducted.

IF judges did that, gymnasts I consider artistic would be rewarded in any case. Uchimura and Kyla Ross, for two.


Artistry, I propose, would be rewarded separately. Prizes like the Longine’s Elegance Award. “Best Choreography” on Beam. “Best Choreography” on Floor.

There’s no need for certified judges to pick those. For example, at the Mexico Open in Acapulco the Elegance award was chosen by Nadia Comaneci, Svetlana Boginskaya and others.


• Lauren Hopkins – The Development of Artistry (Aug 12, 2013)

• Examiner – The Corner Problem and its rather dubious solution on women’s floor (Mar 5, 2013)

• Unorthodox Gymnastics – Corner Flamingos (Mar 20, 2013)

The solution to the Artistry dilemma crystallized for me, in fact, during a Skype interview with Dvora of Unorthodox Gymnastics. It now seems obvious. And inevitable, in the long run.


#1 Alex on 12.04.13 at 6:36 am

I disagree. When people make the argument that artistry should not/ cannot be judged subjectively, they seem to be working on the assumption that the rest of gymnastics judging is really clear cut and objective. However, this is simply not the case as evidenced by the continued arguments about e.g. whether Douglas’ switch ring on beam should have been credited in the AA (which would have completely altered the results). When humans are forcing to make decisions about minute details which could be the difference between a 0.3 and 0.5 deduction (and thus gold medal or non at all), these discrepancies will inevitably happen.

Also, I don’t think good form should be equated with good artistry. Someone like Baraksanova is (rightly imo) cited as one of the most artistic gymnasts of all time. However, she had form issues on tumbling (cowboyed double tuck, straddled double pike, crossed legs on twists). She should definitely be deducted for those. However, if that is the sort of thing artistry is judged on then she would effectively be penalised for poor artistry, which is downright ludicrous. Form and artistry are separate qualities and should be penalised/ rewarded accordingly.

#2 the Artistry dilemma | Gymnastics News Network. on 12.04.13 at 8:05 am

[…] the Artistry dilemma […]

#3 Kylie on 12.04.13 at 9:57 am

Acrobatic gymnastics has a system that separates artistry and execution and then combines the scores as such:
Difficulty: 10.0 (or higher depending on the value of the skills)
Execution: 10.0
Artistry: 10.0
Total 30.0 (or higher)
There is a guideline to take the subjectivity out of the artistry score which judges are trained to use. Examples of this are do they use the whole floor, are all levels of the floor used, is there a variety of shapes used, does the choreography go with the music, are they together, does the choreography differ from each other or are they doing everything the same.
I know some of these would not work for artistic but there could be some kind of guidelines put in place that the FIG could all agree on that every routine needs to have.

#4 Ono No Komachi on 12.04.13 at 10:21 am

Art is about emotion.

Crediting a switch ring is about human judgement of what a person sees in the physical world, sort of like an umpire calling a strike or officials deciding to put one second back on the clock in the Iron Bowl based on the position of a player.

These are not the same thing.

Dvora Myers is right. It is impossible.

How long have I been saying this?

The issue is the fan base of women’s gymnastics loves talking and fighting about this stuff. A sport has to keep fans entertained.

I never, ever want an artistry score in MAG, but I cannot say for sure removing it from WAG is going to solve much.

#5 Mike on 12.04.13 at 11:13 am

Hmmm. It is an interesting dilemma. As we all know, artistry can only be judged subjectively. Some prefer Nureyev, some Baryshnikov. Alex raises some good points about artistic gymnasts with form issues. Mustafina can be beautiful. But I had to laugh at those who slam Aly Raisman but ignored Mustafina’s cringe-worthy form on her triple twist on floor. Aly’s was much better. Form can affect artistry as we all know.

I think the problem comes when a gymnast is legitimately seen as simply more artistic than others. But when that gymnast makes mistakes, his/her supporters try to say those should be forgiven because he or she is more beautiful to watch. Wrong. Komova is beautiful to watch, but not when she makes bobble after bobble after bobble on beam as I’ve seen her do. Those mistakes do impact artistry. Are we really saying that these “artists” are simply more elegant. Ross is more elegant than Biles, but Biles’ form for the most part is very, very good. The elegance of Ross, Komova, and Luikin are a natural product of their body shapes, as is their corresponding lack of power in most instances.

Artistry is simply too difficult to meaningfully quantify. That’s probably why all the articles have such a difficult time coming up with an answer.

#6 JimfromSeattle on 12.04.13 at 11:17 am

I strongly disagree that “artistry” cannot be in some sense quantified.
The underlying concept is related to how efficiently the body moves/illustrates a particular position. To quote Justice Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it.”, recognizing it requires a certain amount of experience/background in the sport….simply put (there is much more to say about this and I refer readers to a number of posts on Elizabeth Booth’s “Russian Gymnastics” blog), “form follows function”…..specific examples?
go to YouTube and compare the first pass of the floor routines of 1992 Olympic Compulsories for Zmeskal, Miller, Boginskaya…..World Champions on FX all, but there is no comparison between Bogey and the other two….her back handsprings are more extended, and her full is EFFORTLESS (as illustrated by the straight arm technique in the ‘wrap’)…..there is a tempo in the skill lacking in the other two…the separation of set, rotation, and adjustment to the floor for landing are so clearly pronounced, example of absolute and ultimate control…..Gerry George discusses these ideas at length in his “Championship Gymnastics”…..artistry can be summarized by the concept of how ‘effortless’, ‘weightless’, fluid any given skill might be…..”form follows function”….happy to discuss this in detail with any who might feel differently…..

one more thing, and this is directed (with respect and a wink) to my apparent opposite Ono….if you really prefer to watch Steve L. taking big hops on every landing and unable to stand in a corner without straightening the fingers on his hands or not looking over at the timer compared with Shatilov’s clean lines and catlike landings, then and/or:
1. reasonable people can disagree
2. there’s no hope for you


ps. who do reader’s think is the most elegant male gymnast of all time?

the answer is not even close to debatable once he is named

#7 Mike on 12.04.13 at 11:54 am

I-know-it-when-I-see-it, though, has to take into account that different people see things differently. Some might prefer other things that Miller or Zmeskal did to Boginskaya, thus creating an overall view that they were better than Boginskaya in the final analysis. I’m not saying that is the case. I’m saying that is debatable based on each person’s subjective preferences.

I think it’s fair to say that some aspects of artistry are quantifiable, but what about presence? I always think of Khorkina for that. When she performed, the entire arena was riveted. That added to her mystique, and thus her artistry. But that is an unquantifiable “je ne sais quoit” rather than some objective criteria.

I completely agree with Jim regarding Steve L. I don’t like to watch his hopping. But my guess is many would disagree with us.

Regarding who is the most elegant gymnast of all time, I fear I don’t have the background to say. However, I’ve been watching gymnastics since the 70s, but seriously a fan since the 96 Olympics. I’d say Uchimura is the best in my opinion from what I’ve seen. But of all time? I’d have to defer to others on that. Good question, though!

#8 Mike on 12.04.13 at 11:55 am

Should be “je ne sais quoi.” Damn typos!

#9 Uncle Tim on 12.04.13 at 1:01 pm

Just to clarify something: Coach Rick’s definition of artistry is coming from a MAG perspective-specifically a very 1980s MAG perspective.

Starting with the 1979 MAG Code of Points, artistry became synonymous with “flawless technical execution.” If we used that definition of artistry, the person with the best execution scores would be crowned the most “artistic” at any meet.

By the way, on the women’s side, the term “artistry” was rarely used in the Code of Points. So, the “return to artistry” conversation is kind of bogus. How can you return to something that was never written into the Code of Points in the first place?

The term that was used quite frequently is “feminine grace,” a rather antiquated term if you ask me, but methinks that “feminine grace” is still synonymous with “artistry” in the minds of many judges and gymnastics fans.

#10 coach Rick on 12.04.13 at 1:18 pm

Most Artistic ever?

hmm …

Not Nemov. Not Uchimura. Not Bilozerchev.

Personally, I quite liked Korolev. Not many would agree he was the most artistic.

Probably one of the 1980s Soviet guys. Perhaps Artimov.

See what I mean, Jim?

No computer could rank the most artistic gymnasts consistently. It’s subjective.

#11 the artistic Aliya Mustafina — Gymnastics on 12.04.13 at 1:26 pm

[…] to watch. Most everyone would agree she’s “artistic“. Yet Aliya does not always have perfect […]

#12 JimfromSeattle on 12.04.13 at 3:24 pm

Mike wrote: “Some might prefer other things that Miller or Zmeskal did to Boginskaya, thus creating an overall view that they were better than Boginskaya in the final analysis.”

and my rejoinder to Mike (or anybody else given the context of my comments….) is….”if you think M/Z were more ‘artistic’ than B, what/where/when/why…..I’ve suggested a paradigm that can be ‘measured’….if you disagree, what are your criteria, and why are they more
important than that which i’ve suggested?

serious discussion.

#13 judge on 12.04.13 at 3:25 pm

IMO we are discussing two different things here. One is the quality of movement and the other is choreography/dance technique. The first one cannot be taught – but the second one can. An Aly Raisman routine with great choreography will never look as appealing as a Mustafina routine with great choreography. However, if the former is given great choreography (and taught how to carry herself from a young age) she will be able to come close to the natural mover.

The best example for a gymnast who does not possess very much natural grace is Jordyn Wieber. However, she had a floor routine to a great piece of music, clever choreography and was clearly taught to perform WITH the music. Another example is Kyla Ross. Elegance does not come naturally to her but the difference between her 2013 floor routine and her 2012 routine is huge. Her old routine looked like it was not given much thought and the choreography seemed very amateurish and random. This year, while she still clearly has problems with timing, she shows much better connection to the music and the movements suit her much better. Add in her great natural lines and she too can be called elegant.

What I’m trying to say is that yes, artistry can be judged. Anyone who is not completely devoid of a sense of rhythm and aesthetics and has watched a number of floor routines (and preferably some dance) in their lives, can tell if the choreography, dance elements and tumbling elements fit the music, if the gymnast is using her whole body, if the gymnast uses the whole floor, if the gymnast is changing levels and if the choreography is simple (as in – a 10-year-old could perform it) or complex/creative. Of course, coaches have to spend much more time on working on posture, presentation and little details such as how to set up turns, jumps and leaps. And no, you don’t have to be a dancer or ballett expert to teach your gymnasts these basics.

#14 JimfromSeattle on 12.04.13 at 3:33 pm

dear friend…..good try………however…..

Valintin Mogilny

if you disagree….
1. who’s YOU’re guy?
2. why?
3. please measure anyone in gymnastics history against this guy……and (full disclosure), I have a personal super bias for the great Japanese gymnasts in history as evidenced in my contribution to IG’s “best of all-time” survey a couple years ago….

SERIOUS CHALLENGE: if anybody wishes to debate my assertion that Mogilny is the “most elegant” (and therefore ‘artistic’ male gymnast) of all-time, then please name a name, and provide some thoughts as to why you disagree………

#15 JimfromSeattle on 12.04.13 at 3:51 pm

Mike suggested:

“Some might prefer other things that Miller or Zmeskal did to Boginskaya”

fair enough…..

2. WHY

#16 Geoffrey Taucer on 12.04.13 at 3:53 pm

Rick, I think your solution is an excellent one.

We were recently discussing this on the Chalk Bucket, and I have said this many times: art and sport are mutually exclusive, and by trying to be both at once we are holding both qualities of gymnastics back.

If what we really want is artistry and creativity (which go hand in hand), the best way to achieve it is to fire the judges, get rid of the scores, medals, and skill values, and simply make it a performance.

If what we really want is a sport which is fairly and objectively evaluated, the best way to achieve it is to eliminate the evaluation of artistry entirely.

#17 Mike on 12.04.13 at 4:04 pm

JimfromSeattle, C-H-I-L-L! If you go back and read my post, it was a hypothetical. Since I don’t prefer either to Boginskaya, I can’t say. My point was that artistry is subjective, and some might weigh some things differently that are difficult to quantify, like presence. Many may prefer Kyla Ross and her elegance on floor, but Simone Biles has presence and really performs to the crowd. Are those not factors for artistry?

I agree with the above posters, and said in my own, that some artistry can be quantifiable, and you give some examples. But some factors are not, and others have provided those examples, including me with the idea of presence.

It’s an interesting debate, but I just wish some people would see that it isn’t entirely quantifiable.

Oh well, let the debate rage!

#18 Ono No Komachi on 12.04.13 at 4:24 pm

I prefer Steve Legendre and CJ Maestas to Shatilov.

Why this matters to anyone I do not know. No judge any of these people will face knows or cares.

Shatilov beat Legendre everytime they met, as he should have. It’s no mystery why.

#19 coach Rick on 12.04.13 at 5:38 pm

The best Cirque du Soleil acts are those that astonish everyone in every audience.

To me that’s “artistry“.

NO medals. No judges. No scores.

#20 JimfromSeattle on 12.04.13 at 8:56 pm

Ono….WHY did Shatilov beat SL “every time”?

isn’t this the crux of the discussion, and if not, WHY not?

#21 Ono No Komachi on 12.04.13 at 10:05 pm

Shatilov got more points. Two of those times Legendre bombed and finished dead last becaues of major errors.

Shatilov has better execution, for the most part. That is true AND there is no need to resort to talking about “artistry” to explain it. The current code of points pretty much has that covered.

#22 balabanov11 on 12.04.13 at 11:07 pm

This is a LUDICROUS arguement, considering we had decades and DECADES of gymnastic competition in which artistic composition, choreography, skill selection, and performance quality were de rigueur, and were recognized and rewarded by competent judging. And just because someone PERSONALLY doesn’t have the education, experience, backround, and exposure to movement arts to be able to recognize what is or isn’t viable artistic expression doesn’t mean that ‘artistry’ isn’t quantifiable for those who DO. EXECUTION IS NOT ARTISTY. Kyla Ross is an obvious example of this (although her execution isn’t near as spotless as some seem to think). Mustafina is a brilliant example, as she is extremely artistic – she presents an obvious, controlled POV in all of her performance, with less than perfect execution on certain elements. But you are right that artistry will really never return to gymnastics on a sportwide basis, as you can’t encourage artistry until you return some level of real subjectivity to the sport, which is this day of trick whore unlimited difficulty that you can “quantify” “objectively” will never happen.Where WAG is concerned, we constantly return to the 80′s, because with the possible exception of bars composition, all of gymnastics was BETTER THEN.

#23 balabanov11 on 12.04.13 at 11:49 pm

oh, and to Ono –

you don’t particularly like WAG, you aren’t particularly well-versed in its history, and by your own description, you basically focus on MAG because gymnastics to you is about trick whoredom.

you really don’t have a horse in this primarily WAG artistry race.

#24 Vadim on 12.05.13 at 1:54 am

Just a stupid thought from the outside (but it is such a pleasure to watch some of the gymnasts perform their routine, not necessarily the most difficult one, that could not resist)..
Artistry can be judged to some extent, e.g. choreographers or ballet masters choose dancers or kids they can teach by some criteria, not necessarily by their current skill, keeping in mind what they can do with kids rather than what kids already do (physiological advantages, turn-out, natural mobility, sense of rhythm, etc).
Long lines, clean form, not jerked movements (I believe, it’s called plasticity), sense of rhythm is of course very important and can be judged by artistry criteria and ideally by somebody who is accustomed to judge this qualities, e.g. professional choreographer. But I think the most captivating thing is when a performer has ‘personality’ and loves what she or he does, that’s when it shows most. When someone ‘tells a story’ with a movement. Think Aliya Mustafina for example. In the zone, dramatic performances, floor music in accord with movements, torn ACL, lot of tears, fears, dignity, self-confidence, fate.. and you can tell that by her routines and music. That’s a story. And not some cliched in movies cinderella, cleaning floors in hopes for marrying a prince. She is telling her own story, choreographed as she wants it, by music she has chosen – it is a strong story.
That is of course very difficult to judge, but again good choreographers deal with it all the time.. Maybe knowledge sharing sessions would help :-)
Also the insane difficulty of today’s gymnastics is the reason why more robotic performances prevail.. So smart artistry coefficient/score would probably help. In that way coach and gymnast have chances of performing a double twist with advantage to triple, so that gymnast will not be out of the zone thinking about this climax move all the time..

#25 Ono No Komachi on 12.05.13 at 10:20 am

Jim, WHY did Zou Kai beat Shatilov EVERY TIME?

Balabanov, go read my first response here. I did not say I thought removing the artistry score from WAG was a solution.

Most WAG fans care a lot about the performance aspect of the sport. They don’t want to watch a bunch of tumbling lines. The dilemma is how to encourage performance while keeping the scoring fair.

It’s not that I dislike WAG. I am not emotionally involved with it. I don’t expect that would be acceptable for me in a MAG code would be what most WAG followers want in the WAG code.

#26 JimfromSeattle on 12.05.13 at 10:34 am

because the code is screwed up and doesn’t recognize


#27 Lizzy on 12.05.13 at 8:02 pm

When I think of artistry, I think of things like individuality, innovation, charisma. Certain athletes pull your eye, even when they haven’t started their routines yet. I also think of musicality on women’s floor. Artistry is when an athlete draws you in, even if what they are doing is disturbing choreography – it’s not always about being pleased, but rather about being cast under the athlete’s spell. In that way I think Musty’s use of the big black eyeliner is part of her artistry – because she’s using the eyes to grab you. With Boginskya – she was even artistic on vault, a particularly unartistic event in my opinion – because she landed in third position rather than with feet together. So she had a trademark, something uniquely her.

I still don’t get the crossed legs in twisting being considered a bad thing, if the form in each leg is good, and there is no space between the legs. To me, narrowing the appearance of the thighs and closing the space between the ankles is not only better looking, but also more functional. But I know people disagree and I’m okay with that!

#28 artistry in 2013 — Gymnastics on 12.30.13 at 3:04 am

[…] Artistry hardly matters, unfortunately. E panels in 2013 do not much differentiate between most artistic and least. I don’t believe FIG will find a way to correct that. Artistry is too subjective to be consistently scored. […]

#29 Fans don’t REALLY want more artistic gymnastics | Gym Geek on 01.02.14 at 12:49 pm

[…] The Artistry Dilemma – from […]

#30 Stacy on 03.04.14 at 6:33 pm

I’m just a fan. I don’t have in dept knowledge of gymnastics. I just love to watch it and have been watching it for over 30 years. Let me tell you what I would like to see in elite gymnastics. In the floor exercise I want to see ballet moves. I want to see pirouettes that gymnasts aren’t falling out of. I like the tumbling ( its really awesome) but I want to see longer lines and more attention placed on the dance portion. They have dancing competitions in the world so I don’t see why they can’t judge the dance part. And what happened to flexibility on the beam ? Everyone needs to watch videos of Nadia doing her 1976 beam routine and go from there. And whats with the body builder type gymnastics bodies ??? I know this will make some people mad but Ballet Schools have body type requirements… why can’t gymnastics ? I was watching the American Cup last weekend and the gymnasts didnt’ look like gymnasts. They looked like female body builders. One girl had thighs so big she could barely get off the beam during her jumps !! It was awful !

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