NEWS
LIFESTYLE
FUNNY
WHOLESOME
INSPIRING
ANIMALS
RELATIONSHIPS
PARENTING
WORK
SCIENCE AND NATURE
About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy
© GOOD Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When the Olympics celebrated artists as well as athletes

Discover the era when artists won Olympic medals for paintings and sculptures.

When the Olympics celebrated artists as well as athletes
Cover Image Source: 1912-Stockholm, Sweden, Photo shows American athletes parading at the Olympic Games in Sweden. (Photo by Getty Images)

For sports enthusiasts worldwide, competing in the Olympic Games is the ultimate dream. Although today's Olympics showcase physical strength, there once was a time when painters, musicians, sculptors, writers, and architects also received Olympic medals. For a few decades, beginning with the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) incorporated art competitions as part of the Olympic Games, according to The Olympics Studies Centre. Upon becoming president of the IOC, Baron Pierre de Coubertin proposed a novel idea: to challenge both the body and mind by incorporating 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)

The primary requirement for the inaugural Olympic art competitions was that the works be inspired by "the idea of sports" or directly relate to athletic themes. When the art competitions were launched in the Olympics, the primary requirement was that the topics selected had to be "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.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, American sharpshooting champion Walter Winans won a gold medal at the Stockholm Games for his 20-inch bronze sculpture, "An American Trotter," depicting a horse pulling a 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. Yet, the enthusiasm for these art competitions soon waned. By the 1936 Berlin Games, political tensions led many countries to withdraw, significantly reducing the number of submissions. 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. The situation deteriorated at the 1948 London Games, which attracted few notable 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.

More Stories on Scoop