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I Coulda Been a Contender!

1 Aug 2012

It's that time again: the time for nations big and small to meet and lay claim to their dominance based on overinflated biceps--um, I mean, athletic prowess. I'm talking about the Olympics, of course.

Whether you're an avid Games-watcher or you could care less, chances are you didn't know that the Olympics used to be more than just a brawn-fest. It also used to award gold medals to artists.

Fine art competitions were originally part of the Olympics in ancient Greek times and were later reinstated, during the 1912 Games.
Fine art competitions were originally part
of the Olympics in ancient Greek times
and were later reinstated, during the 1912 Games.
As Mental Floss notes, fine art competitions were originally part of the Olympics in ancient Greek times and were later reinstated, during the 1912 Games.

The first modern Olympics were held in 1896 in Athens. The man who revived the Games, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, was also the force behind the inclusion of art as sport.

According to Mental Floss, "Coubertin's vision for the modern Olympics was only partly realized with the Athens Games. In the ensuing years, he devoted himself to reestablishing art competitions--a staple of the Games in ancient Greece--as part of the quadrennial Olympiad. Coubertin felt strongly that art was as much a part of the Olympic ideal as athletics. As documented in Richard Stanton's thoroughly researched book on the subject, The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, Coubertin once wrote: 'Deprived of the aura of the art contests, Olympic games are only world championships.'"

From the Editors of American Artist magazine
It wasn't until the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden, however, that Coubertin's vision was finally realized: "We are to reunite in the bonds of legitimate wedlock a long-divorced couple--Muscle and Mind." The original fine art categories were architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature. All entries were to be inspired by the theme of sport.

After the 1928 Games, painting was split into three categories: drawing, graphic art, and painting. These changed again in 1932, this time to painting, prints, and watercolors, and they continued to morph alongside the larger trends of the art world.

The fine art portion of the Olympics was discontinued in 1948 because artists were deemed "professionals," and Olympic athletes were required to be amateurs. And to think--you coulda been a contender!

Jean Jacoby's Olympic winning drawing.
Jean Jacoby's Olympic winning
figure drawing.
Jean Jacoby remains the only artist to win two gold medals; he won his second with the figure drawing, titled Rugby.

Whether you're an Olympic-level painter or more of a weekend watercolorist, why not challenge yourself to reach further with your art this summer? Find out how you stack up by entering in our own version of the Olympics, the 75th Anniversary American Artist competition.

--Amy


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