Of all the decorated Olympians, you’ve probably never heard of Aale Maria Tynni or John Copley. A poet and artist respectively, they both won medals in the Olympic art competition, a long-forgotten event created in 1912 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. Slate posted an entertaining article on de Coubertain, explaining how the organizer demanded that the Olympics “embrace the entire known world” by holding art contests along with sporting events.
The idea was not popular with artists, especially because any work they entered had to be sports-themed. The International Olympic Committee barred professional artists from competing, leading many to feel that the competition didn’t accurately represent the discipline in the same serious light as the sporting events. By the 1952 Games in Helsinki, the event was reduced to an art exhibition before it vanished all together.
There were many problems with the original Olympic arts competition, but de Coubertin, who desperately sought to recognize all human achievements, had his heart in the right place. Do fine arts lend themselves to the competitive atmosphere of sports? Most will tell you that art is never a competition but rather a personal exploration in which “winning” is a foreign word. But if gymnasts and ice skaters are judged for the way they flick their wrists and add flourish to their twirls, subjective judging is already in place at the Olympics.
If the Olympic art competition made a comeback, would you enter?