tell your story, make your mark


July 31, 2012

Storyism was, and still is, part of the Olympic Games

Assa Kaupi, The Race is Over 2011. Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, Poland.

Few people know that you could win an Olympic medal for artistic endeavours.

From 1912 until 1952, it was possible to enter the Games and compete to be the best in painting, sculpture, graphic design, architecture, town planning, music, or literature, as well as sports.

There was even a gold medal awarded for Alpinism for a Mount Everest Expedition during 1922.

Are these the hidden side of the games?

The Olympic Charter actually does require each host city to hold a Cultural Olympiad, to “promote harmonious relations, mutual understanding and friendship among the participants and others attending the Olympic Games”. London has held a calendar of cultural events for the 2012 games since 2008, allowing more than 16 million people across the UK to participate in events as diverse as collecting stories of the world, new music, short films, and modern sculptural commissions. The program culminates with the London 2012 Festival, which ends after the Games on the 9th of September.

“…promote harmonious relations, mutual understanding and friendship among the participants and others attending the Olympic Games”

But why were the Arts included in the first place? French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic Games and founder of the International Olympic Committee in 1894, is responsible. He saw the combination of athleticism and culture as touching the ideals of the ancient Greek Olympic Games, where artistic expression with a sporting theme was a substantial part of the competition. It was 1912 before he saw this vision come true, but it took the summer Games in Paris for the competition to be taken seriously by the artistic community.

The competition was not without its problems though. The judging panels were hardly expert enough to know what they were looking at or listening to. Especially in the case of music, which in all but one year of competition was presented as written scores. The judges sometimes got so confused they could not pick a winner, and opted instead to hand out only silver and bronze medals. Sometimes no medals were presented at all.

This may have contributed to the death of the competition – the committee started to complain that the level of entries was too professional, even though the rules of the Olympic Games stated that only amateurs could enter. And in 1949 it was virtually all over. In 1952 the Helsinki summer Games only held an exhibition, claiming there was not enough time to prepare for a whole competition. And artistic exhibitions they remained ever after.

There is in fact very little written about this topic, but you can find more information on Olympic Artists at the Ask Art website.


About the Author

Evon Koprowski
Brand storyteller, creative strategist, content marketer and all round bon vivant at Red Fortune Media where I growth hack projects for the arts, culture, tourism, technology and social sectors. I'm freelance - if I can help you, get in touch.


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