Michael Phelps. Carl Lewis. Gabby Douglas. Olympic champions like these are memorable for their athletic ability, but what if there are other non-athletic areas they excel in as well? How can we recognize that as well?
From 1912-1952, this idea was taken into consideration (to a point) and Olympic medals were given out for fine arts. As long as the work was themed around an athletic endeavor, an artist could medal in the Olympics.
Imagine being able to bring home an Olympic medal for your artwork. I won an award in high school for one of my pieces and I thought that felt pretty impressive. That’s far from being nationally and internationally recognized for artistic talent, though.
The first year for this competition in the modern Olympic games, Walter Winans won a gold medal for his sculpture, An American Trotter (pictured below). He had previously gotten a gold medal in the 1908 Olympics for shooting, making him the first modern Olympic champion in both artistic and athletic competition.
During this period, the Olympic games awarded 151 bronze, silver and gold medals to fine art submissions like Winans’. These included various paintings, illustrations and more sculptures.
Interestingly enough, many artists had beef with the fine arts competition of the Olympic games. The competition was started by outsiders of the artistic community and the artists didn’t always agree with the criteria or judgments, which resulted in many artists not entering work in the competition.
Understanding this, and the removal of such competition in the games today, it seems that the Olympics may be better suited in judging athletic excellence. Leaving the art competitions to the art critics and focusing on athletic performance, the Olympics have obviously done the right thing and remained the highest recognition for athletes around the world.