Groundbreaking work "Olympic Rings with Sporks and Sauces."

The 2012 Summer Olympics begin tonight in London, and through August 12 humans will exemplify the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius, or "Faster, Higher, Stronger." But what about "Prettier"?

The Atlantic dug up some Olympic history about the art competition that used to be part of the Games. Between 1912 and 1948, they report, medals were awarded in five artistic categories: architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, and music. Cool, right? It was until the Nazis got involved. Stupid Nazis ruin everything.

In the 1936 Berlin Games—when Jesse Owens was stuffing Adolf Hitler's white supremacy ideals in his face—the art competitions were overseen by Reich minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels. The Germans stacked the judging panels; the jury consisted of 29 Germans and 12 other Europeans. And there was one other tiny problem: Professional artists weren't allowed to compete. (Neither were professional athletes until the 1980s.) The results were...predictable.

Soon after, the whole pro-versus-ameteur debate basically killed Olympic art competitions, and they became separate art festivals. (And medals in architecture aren't even the weirdest Olympic prizes ever awarded—ever heard of Olympic dueling, cannon shooting, or tug of war?)

Need more artsy ways to enjoy the Olympics? Check out NPR's guide to Olympic music. And after tonight, we'll know how Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, managed to fit 86 songs into the London Opening Ceremonies (Sugababes AND the Sex Pistols?).

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