I know. You’re all SOOOOO OVER the Olympics. And they’re done, at least for two more years. (That’s how that works, right? It’s every two years? It’ll be somewhere in the winter in two years, won’t it? I should probably look that up. Wait, don’t go anywhere. FINE, the interwebs tells me that in two years, the Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia. That’s a cute town name. It sounds like a stuffed animal or a delicious coffee beverage. I like that a lot.)
But I found this mention of something I totally found interesting in all the Olympic coverage, and I couldn’t not mention it. How could I not mention it? It covers all the things I love. Arts, weirdness, some sort of odd coverup, and SKULLDUGGERY. Well, also sports, but meh, I’ll pretend that’s not happening, you know how me + sports = a big fat who-cares.
Some of you might know this – you’re all pretty web-savvy, so you might have seen mention of this, here or here – but some of you might have missed this, in all of the Olympic lunacy. Were you aware that, for 36 years, there were arts events in the Olympics? Not sports – no one getting all sweaty and running all around and being better-faster-stronger – but ARTS events! It is totally true!
There were five categories – architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. In each of those categories, there were various awards you could win. Like, in architecture, one of the awards was for town planning. And in literature, there were four sub-categories: mixed literature, dramatic works, epic works, and lyric and speculative works.
Is this not a totally cool thing? That we were giving Olympic medals to our artists?
Well, yes, sure, in theory, it totally was. But it was actually kind of weird, and poorly-planned, and not very well-thought-out or executed.
The creator of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin (you can tell by the name he was a good Italian boy, right? heh) decided that he’d like the Olympic Games to be more like the old-timey Olympic Games. Apparently, back in Greek times, they really were keen on their artists. (YAY GREEKS!) So he decided, let’s have some arts events. Let’s let our artists be showcased and let’s celebrate them, too.
What were the rules? Well, that’s where things are kind of hazy. There’s not a lot written about these events. What I’ve been able to find out is that you couldn’t be a professional “artist” – only amateurs were allowed to compete – but the participants were allowed to sell their submissions during the Olympics (I like to imagine a painter running along the sidelines of an event, all, “Paintings! Get your paintings here!”) The works of art had to be “directly inspired by the idea of sport.” Which is pretty broad, when you think about it. You could pretty much say anything was “inspired” by the idea of sport. I could write a poem about gardening and throw in something about how it’s like shotputting and wouldn’t that fit that broad description, really? I mean, I’m not saying it would be good, but it’d fit the description.
So the first year they did these events, the judges (they’re like the old-timey version of the American Idol judges, is my guess) were SO SO SO EXCITED that they had JUST THE PERFECT POEM that had been submitted. It was very exciting, full of things like “the radiant messenger of a past age” and “O, Sport! You are Honour!” and “yours is a prudent, well-considered audacity” (hee! I love that!) and “destroying unhealthy seed” (yeah, I don’t…I don’t know about that last one) and the judges were TOTALLY creaming their old-timey shorts over this poem. (Check this out: “He/who, with some shameful trick,/manages to deceive his fellow com-/petitors feels guilt to his very core/and lives in fear of the ignominious/epithet which shall forever be/attached to his name should his/trickery be discovered.” WHOA. This guy HATED trickery! So much! Hee!)
The authors were some super-fancy gents named Georges Hohrod and Martin Eschbach. So the judges were all, “bring us Georges and Martin! Let us PRESENT THEM WITH LAURELS!” Only…no one could find ol’ Georges and Martin. Where were they? Where were Georges and Martin?
Well, they didn’t exist. Why? Because someone else wrote the poem and made up the authors. Who made up the poem?
Our tricky French friend Pierre de Coubertin. He was worried no one would submit decent poetry for his first outing in Olympic artiness, so he wrote what he considered to be the PERFECT POEM.
Guess what? They still gave him the gold medal that first year, even though he was a lying liar who lied. They actually awarded it to the imaginary names – the Martin/Georges combo – but everyone knew it was ol’ de Coubertin.
There were a lot of problems with the arts competition. There were no rules about how many medals had to be given out, so there were a lot of years where there were just not enough good entries in the categories to award a gold, a silver, and a bronze. There didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in the categories among artists – you know how artists are, with their “You’re a SELLOUT, yo!” mentality. (And, yeah, it’s a fine line, the sellout thing. You gotta feed yourself, but you also want your fellow artists to respect you, and you want the public at large to respect you, and you want to be able to look yourself in the eye at the end of the day…so it’s tough, deciding what you can do and still be an “artist” and not a “douchebag,” I guess.)
The arts categories eventually got phased out for a variety of reasons – the events weren’t considered very professional, were getting too commercial, and, as mentioned above, the rules were kind of all over the place. (Also, the Germans tried to add a “film” category at one point and the committee was all “NO NO NO” which is just dumb. A film category would have been a good addition. Why you naysaying the Germans, yo?) Apparently, there’s a concurrent Olympic art show that runs every two years with the summer Olympics now, which is a nod toward the Olympic art events.
So what’s weird about this? Well, how about how NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT? I didn’t hear about it until this year. You’d think this would be something that’s a little more publicized. People love Olympic trivia (I don’t know why, they just do. I don’t. PEOPLE do. NORMAL people.) Even a search when I was writing this didn’t bring up a hell of a lot – the two articles I linked above, a couple others – this one from the New York Times, an article informing me that NPR had been holding a throwback poetry competition to celebrate the long-lost Olympic events. The articles even told me that the poems were never collected anywhere, and – and check this out from the Wikipedia article, how weird is this? “The IOC does not track medalists in Olympic art competitions in its database and thus the prize winners have been taken from the original Olympic reports.” What the hell? I’m sure there are excellent records of all the winners of Olympic events, going back to forever and ever, but not of these events? Are they embarrassed about them, or do they just not matter at all? I find this all quite bizarre.
I feel kind of bad for these artists. They submitted their stuff and they totally won Olympic gold (or silver or bronze) and they’ve totally been forgotten by history. That makes me sad. They were winners, same as the athletes. They deserve kudos, same as any other winner. (Even if they say things like “prudent, well-considered audacity.”)
So! When you are having happy Olympic memories and such, send a few thoughts out toward people like Urho Karhumäki, a Finnish (yay for Finland!) poet who won gold for a poem called “Avoveteen” (Andreas could tell you, but apparently, that means “Into free water”, which makes me smile – I like that there’s one word that means that), or Rudolf Binding, a German who wrote the (I’m sure FILLED with euphemism, because he’s from Ken’s country!) silver-medal-winning poem “Reitvorschrift für eine Geliebte.” What’s that mean? Well. I’m glad you asked. It means “Rider’s Instructions to his Lover.” (Also, UMLAUT YAY!) Who says poetry inspired by sport can’t be ALL THE SEXY?
Yay for exciting history and poems filled with euphemism and giving awards to artists!