First, when is "back then"? Are we talking about early 1970s/Janet Lynn specifically?
Up until that time, the majority of the results depended on how precisely skaters could trace circles on the ice -- not exactly thrilling to watch from either a sporty or an artistic point of view -- pure technique, not of much interest to the general public.
Which had been slowly changing and experienced one big change (introduction of the short program) specifically because of Lynn while she was still competing.
For just the freeskating part of the competition, I have no firsthand knowledge of what judges were looking for in that era. But I did skate a few years later and I did hear from coaches and more advanced fellow skaters about flutzes (not sure if I heard that exact term in the 70s, but definitely in rinks in the 90s before I heard it online), cheated jumps, traveling spins, etc. Technique did matter. Edges mattered, speed mattered, etc.
Counting difficult jumps was less important than overall impression, but a lot of that overall impression in the technical merit mark was based on technique, including fine points of less interest to the general public. A triple jump was exciting because it was rare especially among women, but a big clean double axel was important in the way that triple axel later became for men.
"Artistry" mattered too, but my impression of all the skaters I've watched from that era -- not just the few (primarily Lynn, Curry, Cranston from the 70s) who revolutionized the artistic side of the sport -- is that "artistry" mainly consisted of skating with good carriage and form, in interesting patterns, in time with the music. A coherent point of view was rare and not necessary to trump good technique.
Being able to skate with freedom and expressive upper body movement at all was what set someone like Lynn (and Laurence Owen a decade earlier) apart from her contemporaries. Definitely valued, but probably not the norm. So much of the training was focused on preciseness and stillness in the upper body, which left most of the expression for most skaters in the arms and the rhythm of the stroking and steps, if they focused on artistry at all. Emphasis on refined body line was also fairly new, popularized by Peggy Fleming and the Protopopovs.
Dick Button talked a lot about artistry on US broadcasts. Certainly it was easier for TV audiences to relate to than technical details, which he often skimmed over, perhaps on advice from the TV producers. (Also, for what it's worth, he married Janet Lynn's coach the same year Lynn retired from competition.)
But if I look at someone like Dorothy Hamill, I think she was the best freeskater of the mid-70s, with better carriage and freedom of movement than most of her competitors although some were doing harder jumps, which made her performances more aesthetically pleasing to watch, but I personally wouldn't call it artistry.
And I wouldn't call most of those competitors artistic compared to today's field.
Lynn is remembered because she stood out from the crowd as "artistic" in an era that had a pretty limited definition of artistry.
Gkelly, that's a very helpful and informative analysis, especially about details of upper body movement and line. Thanks!
To me, technique belongs more to the art of skating than to the sport. Well-controled, deep edges, continuous flow out of landings, carriage, extension, skating outward from the core, no flutzing, no cheated jumps, no traveling spins -- in short, technique -- is what underlies performance art. Bobbing along with the music, telling a coherent story -- that is not nearly so important to me. Figures are art. Drawing a perfect circle is art.
With the ever-increasing emphasis on athletic virtuosity, well that's cool, too. But look how many points you get for somehow managing to muscle your body around in the air four times any which way, then falling.
I still maintain that there was a sea change somewhere along in the 1980s. Nowadays when we see a great performance it's "YeeHAW! She kicked butt!" In Janet Lynn's era it was more, "Be still my heart." (JMO. )
There are those who might think that I am bad-mouthing Janet Lynn. I am not. As said before, without her, modern figure skating is not possible.
However, Janet's performances are quite often worshipped for qualities that are, as gkelly points out, anachronistic constructs on the viewers' part. In this respect. they are like the mummified remains of a community ancestor that, through a sustained process of creative mythologizing, now represent a semi-divine being who was once 8 feet tall and could breathe fire.
Objective studies (such as gkelly's) are not popular because they are seen to be both unfilial and impious, not to mention full of dreary things like facts and technicalities.
Fortunately for gkelly, hemlock has long been out of fashion.
I don't think Lynn is a good example for "anachronistic" sentimentalism. The purity and angelic beauty of her skating are timeless. And that is why she stood out from her peers. Fleming was also praised for her beauty of movement and was rewarded for it.
Without the dinosaurs who skated slowly, did "simple" movements, jumps, and footwork, the skaters today would have nothing to surpass and emulate. They laid the foundation for the standards of excellence. Anyone who wanted to beat them had to be better.
We are talking about something that is subjective and possibly spiritual. The emotions that certain skaters evoke in others can be as individualistic as there are people. Lynn had a connection to her audience that Mao or Yuna don't inspire. That isn't to discredit them but they don't have the mystical quality of Lynn's skating. If I wanted to watch a brilliant 3lutz-3toe combo, I'd obviously watch Yuna, not Lynn. There is something different for everyone.
From the 70s, people still constantly talk about Curry, Cranston, Lynn, etc. but rarely do people remember the cookie-cutter skaters. They are remembered for good reason.
I don't think people are being nostalgic or sentimental. Who in the world has had better line than Curry? Maybe Wylie and a few but that's it. Out of thousands of skaters and decades, few people are able to surpass his artistic ability.
And, by this logic, how do you know that Janet inspired this subjective spiritual something (that we can't analyze), and that Mao or Yuna do not? I mean, the latter inspire me. I would hate to think that I was just a figment of your imagination.
I think we can each say who we personally find inspiring, who we find artistic, who we root for, who we think was one of the greatest skaters of all time, who was our favorite of all time, whose programs we can watch again and again, who was historically the most important.
Any one of us would probably not name the skater for all of the above. Or if we had to make lists of the five or ten most [each of the above], we might have a few skaters we put on most of our lists and others who only get mentioned once.
Different fans would surely name different skaters, compile different lists.
We aren't all inspired by the same thing. We don't all define artistry the same way. We may have personal reasons for connecting with one skater more than others. When we started watching skating, where we live, whether we saw performances live (and from what vantage point) or on TV or on our computers, what the media coverage consisted of, etc., etc., will all shape our emotional responses.
If we surveyed avid and casual fans of all ages from all parts of the world that have access to skating coverage, we could draw some conclusions about trends, who seems to be most popular over time, etc.
Otherwise we can only speak for ourselves, and make some guesses about what the trends might be based on our perceptions of what we've encountered in the media, among our acquaintances, or in forums like this one. But if we're mostly familiar with media coverage in our own era and our own country, we can't even make good guesses about is or was considered most popular or most influential in other parts of the world.
I'm interested to know who inspires you. I'm not interested in you telling me who inspires me.
(And that goes double for the media. Don't tell me what I like. Just show me the skating and let me form my own response.)
For me, Irina's LP at 2005 Worlds was really memorable. It gives me chills, very exciting to watch! This was the best skate Irina ever had in my opinion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zek69FhRfBc
Also, Scotty Hamilton at the 1984 Olympics in the SP. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K7FrswjzX0
And lastly, Sasha's Rachmaninoff. She really paid attention to detail and took her time with every element. Dick Button always praised her, despite her common mistakes. Her lines were wonderful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VXLwEcmkcw
I dunno, it all sounds pretty objective-claiming to me.Originally Posted by BlackPack
I guess I don't find the whole "IMO, this is timelessly the standard of excellence, and anyone who wants to get rewarded simply needs to be better" to be all that committed to subjectivity in any practical respect. It merely pays it lip service for polemical purposes.
One cannot have one's cake and eat it, too.
I am certainly not saying that Janet Lynn was not a very great skater. I am simply suggesting (as per gkelly's excellent post) that the current notions for what constitutes artistry in skating are somewhat more capacious than they were in Janet's day. I further suggest that there is very good reason for this: the idea of skating as a vehicle for artistry was really in its infancy then, and the articulation of its principles would continue to undergo significant evolution in the decades that followed.
If one were to argue that there are certain aspects or qualities in Janet's skating that are beautiful and worthy of being studied as paragon lessons today, I would heartily agree, although, to repeat, this proposition has no real force or importance unless it lays some claim to objectivity. Do you not see this?
Further, what gkelly demonstrated in conceptual brief is that Janet would not be considered a complete skater, even aesthetically, under our current ideas of aesthetics in competitive figure skating. (If one is not talking about competitive skating, then that is a somewhat different story).
This is all even a bit off-track, because the main point was that it is, I repeat, a silly affectation to say that even the best of Yuna and Mao's programs are not worthy of repeated viewing by comparison to Janet's.
If you believe that this is purely subjective, I don't actually see the point in your disagreement.
Actually, I was more arguing that Janet Lynn was ahead of her time in terms of using the whole body expressively.
If someone wants to use her as a touchstone of artistry, I won't disagree. I wouldn't consider her one of my personal all-time favorites, but we all have different personal favorites. Who speaks touches us emotionally is often subjective and subject to reasons in our personal lives.
E.g., even from that era, Canadian fans might have warmer memories of Karen Magnussen's career.
And undoubtedly many Korean fans today feel warmest about Yu-na Kim.
But even for those who adore Lynn, it's one thing to say "Janet Lynn was a great artist on ice; I'd much rather watch her programs over and over than any of Yu-na Kim's." It's mainly a personal preference anyway.
It would be something else to say "Skating was much more artistic 40 years ago than it is today" and intend that statement to cover all skaters over all disciplines in both eras.
Of course it depends how you define "artistic," but by my definition I'd strongly disagree with the latter.