close
close

Aritists used to participate in the Olympics in early 20th century showcasing their creativity

For all the sports enthusiasts in the world, reaching the Olympic Games is a dream come true. While the modern-day Olympics is considered a test of strength, there was a time when artists like painters, musicians, sculptors, writers and architects were honored with an Olympic medal. For a few decades since the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to incorporate art competitions as part of the Olympic Games, according to The Olympics Studies Centre. When Baron Pierre de Coubertin became the IOC’s president he suggested the idea of applying both the body and mind of the participants by introducing art into the Games.

Image Source: Members of the International Olympic Committee (standing left to right) Willibald Gebhardt, IOC member for Germany, Jiri Guth-Jarkovsky, IOC member for Bohemia, Ferenc Kemeny, IOC member for Hungary, Victor Balck, IOC member for Sweden. (Sitting left to right) Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Secretary General of the IOC, Demetrius Vikelas of Greece, President of the IOC, and General Alexey Dmitriyevich Butovsky, IOC member for Russia. Taken during the 1896 IOC Session at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, when de Coubertin replaced Vikelas as IOC President. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
Image Source: Members of the International Olympic Committee (standing left to right) Willibald Gebhardt, IOC member for Germany, Jiri Guth-Jarkovsky, IOC member for Bohemia, Ferenc Kemeny, IOC member for Hungary, Victor Balck, IOC member for Sweden. (Sitting left to right) Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Secretary General of the IOC, Demetrius Vikelas of Greece, President of the IOC, and General Alexey Dmitriyevich Butovsky, IOC member for Russia. Taken during the 1896 IOC Session at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, when de Coubertin replaced Vikelas as IOC President. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

When the art competitions were launched in the Olympics, the primary requirement was that the topics selected had to be inspired by “the idea of sports or must deal directly with the athletic topic.” So, during the 1912 Olympic Games held in Sweden, the idea came to life. As per Smithsonian Magazine, American Walter Winans, a renowned sharpshooting champion of the time, won gold at the Stockholm Games for a 20-inch-tall bronze sculpture named “An American Trotter” which was a horse pulling a small chariot. Richard Stanton, the author of The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, examined the history of art competitions in Olympic games out of curiosity. Speaking about why de Coubertin felt the need to include arts, Stanton mentioned, “He felt that in order to recreate the events in modern times, it would be incomplete to not include some aspect of the arts.”

Image Source: General view of the crowded stands in the Olympic Stadium (Olympisch Stadion), at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1928. The stadium was designed by Dutch architect Jan Wils (1891-1972). (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Image Source: General view of the crowded stands in the Olympic Stadium (Olympisch Stadion), at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1928. The stadium was designed by Dutch architect Jan Wils (1891-1972). (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With time, the art competitions gained traction and more countries began submitting their artworks like paintings, sculptures, architectural designs, literary works and music. As per ArchitectureAU, the 1928 Amsterdam Games was conducted in a stadium designed by Dutch architect Jan Wils who won the gold medal for architecture. However, the buzz didn’t last long. By the 1936 Berlin Games, many countries withdrew from the art competitions and the number of works submitted dwindled due to political reasons. Also, Stanton stated, “Some people were enthusiastic about it, but quite a few were standoffish. They didn’t want to have to compete because it might damage their own reputations.” Apart from these reasons, the exclusively sport-themed art competitions made many artists lose interest. Things went downhill during the 1948 London Games where the entries didn’t see much of any major artists.

Image Source:  A sculpture of a water polo player by the Swiss sculptor Frank. The sculpture is on display at the Olympic art exhibition in Berlin. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Image Source: A sculpture of a water polo player by the Swiss sculptor Frank. The sculpture is on display at the Olympic Art Exhibition in Berlin. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

With a mediocre quality of submissions, the London Games became the genesis of a revamp to the art competitions. It was decided that the art competitions will be replaced by art exhibitions and that the winners would receive medals. However, in the 1950s, the Organizing Committee dropped the practice of awarding medals to the artists too. Since then only part played by the artists in the Olympics was in the exhibitions which became “Cultural Olympiads” that displayed their works on sports or athletic themes. If the medals for art were still valid, 73-year-old British artist John Copley, who won a silver for his artwork “Polo Players,” would’ve been the oldest medalist in the history of the Olympics. Recent Olympic Games involve a Sports and Art Contest where the winners are awarded cash prizes and their artworks are showcased during the games.