Did you know that the Olympics used to give out medals for art? For the first four decades of the modern Olympiad, judges gave out medals for art, literature, and architecture right alongside the main sporting events. Smithsonian’s article about this oft-forgotten portion of the competition is worth a read. On the reasons for inclusion of of the arts, Joseph Stromberg writes,
…the story went all the way back to the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the IOC and the modern Games, who saw art competitions as integral to his vision of the Olympics. “He was raised and educated classically, and he was particularly impressed with the idea of what it meant to be a true Olympian—someone who was not only athletic, but skilled in music and literature,” Stanton says. “He felt that in order to recreate the events in modern times, it would be incomplete to not include some aspect of the arts.”
The arts were phased out after the Second World War when Avery Brundage became president of the International Olympic Committee. Brundage was insistent that all competitors be absolute amateurs, and as most artists depend upon selling their work, the cultural competitions were at odds with Brundage’s vision. Now that professional athletes are permitted to compete, should we bring back Olympic medals for art, or is the non-competitive Cultural Olympiad a better alternative?
Header image: Walter Winans’ An American Trotter won the gold medal in the “Sculpture” category at the first Olympic Art Competitions in 1912 in Stockholm. via Smithsonian.com