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Gold medal in art

For the several of the first modern Olympic Games you could win a gold medal in sculpture, painting, music, literature, or architecture.

When the modern Olympics began in the late 19th century, the intention was for them to celebrate human endeavour in art as well as sport. Pierre de Coubertin, the guy in charge, believed that art was an essential component of his plan… but he had a difficult time convincing anyone else. It wasn’t until the fifth Olympics in 1912 that he succeeded, and even then it was against the objections of the Swedish hosts.

The art in question was all sports-themed, of course. In the 1912 Olympics only gold medals were awarded for art (with the exception of one silver medal), probably because of the lack of entries. The categories were sculpture, painting, music, literature, and architecture, and the winner was chosen by a panel of judges.

By 1948 both the entries and the categories had expanded: architectural design, town planning, poetry, drama, epics, singing, chamber music, choral / orchestral, water colours / oil painting, engraving, applied arts (posters!), statues, reliefs, and medals. Yup, that’s right, you could win a gold medal in gold medal design. The oldest Olympic medal winner in history (73 years old) won the engraving competition that year.

The 1948 Olympics was the end of the art competitions. Funnily enough, the reason they stopped was not what you’d think. It came to the organisers’ attention that the competitors were mostly artistic professionals – and the Olympics was supposed to be a competition of amateurs. So they stopped giving medals for art and switched over to non-competitive cultural and art exhibitions instead.

Here’s my question: they expected amateurs to participate, but one of the categories was architecture. Are there many amateur architects out there? And do we really want to give them medals for it?

[Thanks to Gareth E. for suggesting this topic.]

Categories: Art Arts & recreation Fashion & design Games & sport Literature Music

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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