In the first half of the 20th century, the Olympics awarded medals for artworks. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, which began in 1896, pushed for “muscle and mind” to be honored. Medals were presented to artists from 1912 to 1948.
Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded for music, sculpture, literature, architecture, and two categories of painting, oil painting and watercolor. No, they did not paint in front of a crowd or the judges.
In the first year of the arts competition, American Walter Winans won a medal in sculpture and another in shooting. A true artist-athlete.
You can read more about this in the book The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions by Richard Stanton.
You can also read about a gold-medal winner and the poignant path his life, his art, and his medal took after his victory. “When aesthetes competed at the Olympics” was published in the Los Angeles Times on August 25, 2008.
“Play Me, I’m Yours,” an international project by artist Luke Jerram, is all about the joy of music. For three weeks In the spring of 2012, this project came to Los Angeles, courtesy of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Thirty pianos were scattered about the county, outdoors and indoors.
In a courtyard with modern stores in historic buildings, people stood and looked at the piano. It was Saturday evening and couples had come to enjoy the restaurants, stores and movie theater. There were three young men about eighteen years old. Everyone kept their distance from a wildly painted piano.
“It’s for anyone to play,” someone said.
“He can play,” one of the young men said about another.
People said they would like to hear him play, but the young man made no move to do so.
“Nobody expects you to be great,” I told him.
He sat at the piano. His playing wasn’t perfect.
Yet the music was magic in the twilight on the Saturday evening. Couples put their arms around each other as they listened. At the end of the song, people applauded.
Here’s a link to a wonderful video. A gospel choir sings at a street piano twenty years to the day after the Los Angeles riots. Elson Trinidad, the choir member at the keyboard, says, “Things have changed in twenty years and we’re going to celebrate the changes.”
Elson Trinidad and the Gospel Choir of St. Agatha’s Church on a Street Piano