The Olympics, Art & Design

We love all things art-related so we were fascinated to read this article from The Atlantic about the history of the Twentieth Century Artistic Olympics:

“It was International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin's great dream to marry the aesthetic with the athletic—thus, every Olympics between 1912 and 1948 awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals to artists…There were five categories of individual competition: architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, and music... artworks were required by official Olympic rules to "bear a definite relationship to the Olympic concept."

The problem was the amateurism of it all. As with the sport side, professional artists were banned from entering the Olympics under Pierre de Coubertin's vision. It was only after the 1988 games that all professional athletes became eligible to compete in sports. As such, the arts competition was beset by some not very good art!

“Few artists of note ever competed in the Olympic art competitions because professional artists were prohibited from entering; thus, among the best-known winners of Olympic medals for art are the American architect Charles Downing Lay and one Joseph Golinkin, a lithographer whose oeuvre included designs for a number of American stamps… After the 1948 games, the Olympic art competitions were modified into a parallel art festival and exhibition held at the site of each Summer and Winter Games”.

Artists often design the accompanying posters, such as this lovely poster from Seoul 1988:




The 2016 Rio Olympics ushered in an incredible 13 artist-designed posters instead of 1: “Carla Camurati, director of culture for the Rio Olympics, explains to Paste magazine that “one artist couldn’t accurately represent the more than 200 million walks of life that call the South American host country home.” Therefore, 13 artists were carefully selected and given the opportunity to capture Brazilian culture in the spirit of the games.” Our favourite is this from Beatriz Milhazes which manages to look both modern and classic at the same time.



But the most defining aspect of the Games has always been the graphics – the logo and typography chosen as each host country attempts to create an iconic brand for their particular Games. Here is a selection of our favourites:

Looking to the future, Tokyo is continuing this tradition for 2020 with a lovely clean chequerboard design, explained here:

“In Japan, the chequered pattern became formally known as “ichimatsu moyo” in the Edo period (1603-1867), and this chequered design in the traditional Japanese colour of indigo blue expresses a refined elegance and sophistication that exemplifies Japan. Composed of three varieties of rectangular shapes, the design represents different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. It incorporates the message of “unity in diversity”. It also expresses that the Olympic and Paralympic Games seek to promote diversity as a platform to connect the world.”