I’m not a particularly sporty person – even though I’m Australian, and we seem to have a bit of a reputation in this area. My chosen field for over the last 20 years or so has been in a studio rather than a sports arena. I do admire athletic people, and I’m not above having a good hard look at the fabulous physicality and intriguing energy of a well disciplined body, but engagement in traditional sports is not my thing.
Even the idea of watching a sporting match of any sort generally produces a sensation of intense underwhelm-ment. The one exception to this in recent times was the first rounds of Women’s Aussie Rules Football, which was a fabulous piece of spectator sport. However in general my criteria for a spectator sport includes a glass of red, some cheese, a catch up with fellow artists and a gander at some hopefully new and interesting art.
So today’s prompt for Smutober was difficult- everything I thought of seemed cheesy or unimaginative. However before heading out to my paid job today I determined to include an image I’d taken a couple of weeks ago in my studio – The Oasis, as I wrestle with an artwork of mine, dressed in some comfy attire. The artwork, in case you are interested, is one of a series I’m doing of sheep in pens – a protest about Australia’s treatment of refugees. While I’m happy enough with the image, and the conceit, I feel I owe you a little more, so I hope you find it interesting…
In my work in education it has often been my task to attempt to engage students whose intense interests in physical education make it difficult for them to appreciate the reach and value of the Arts. While there are many ways to approach this task, one of the most effective to date has been to invite them to consider the Olympic Games – despite my own misgivings about this event on economic, social, political and ethical grounds. These events do have the potential to serve as a powerful focal point for learning and teaching across a range is subjects as Primary/Elementary teachers are also well aware.
In order to assist students to move beyond hackneyed responses involving International flags and the designing of team costumes, I had to push past my own apathy, and locate more concrete, effective links between the Arts and The Olympics. While it is relatively simple to make historic connections between the games and design, and even between the games and the Ancient Greek Pottery which depicts aspects of the games – including athletes competing, the nudity often makes this a no go zone for teachers.
Therefore I was surprised but very pleased to discover the deeper connection between art and the modern Olympics. This largely forgotten history was the subject of a book by Richard Stanton which was published back in 2002. In The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, Stanton’s research uncovered links between the founder of the IOC Modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and his vision for a more well rounded event which included the Arts/Literature.
In an article on the topic for the Smithsonian magazine , Joseph Stromerg (2012), offers the following information: “For the first four decades of competition, the Olympics awarded official medals for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music, alongside those for athletic competitions. From 1912 to 1952, juries awarded a total of 151 medals to original works in the fine arts inspired by athletic endeavours.”
While art is no longer part of the main Olympic event, since 2004 it has been a part of the lead up to the summer games, albeit in a watered down version of the earlier version. Still it’s enough to serve as a solid focus for my students to think about connections between art and sport, and to see that striving for connection, the recognition of skill and ability and indeed for some milestones of excellence are attributes these seemingly disparate fields can share.