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Icons put Olympic art in perspective

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Olympic athletes and visitors from around the world are arriving in Sochi, Russia for the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. State-of-the art Olympic stadiums will also spotlight the artistic traditions of the Olympic Games. Here are key elements to appreciate as you view the new Olympic Games in a completely new setting.

Fine art is most often a work of genius. Legendary artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso fused classical fine art training with unique individual styles and materials to create images that are immediately recognizable as their own works.

Olympic art is different. Olympic art is created by the Olympic community for the Olympic community. The strength and scale of the community gives it an energy that eclipses the individual artists who create it. And this creative community achieves unmatched participation. Most people in the world watch the Olympics on television. Over one million volunteers in 197 countries help to organize the Olympic Games, qualifying events and fundraising efforts. And every two years, 8,000 to 14,000 torchbearers illuminate Olympic art and traditions in carefully orchestrated torch relays that transport the flame from Olympia, Greece, home of the ancient Olympics.

Excellence and surpassing goals, Olympic ideals dating back to the ancient Olympics, have fostered a tradition of innovation. You can see it in the state-of-the-art bobsled and you can also see it in energetic spectroscopic photography. Over a century, the innovation that became a hallmark of Olympic art, convergence of different art forms, has become an influential trend in Twenty-first Century art. Iconic murals and sculptures grace Olympic venues. But that is just the start. Olympic art ranges from polished metalwork to wood carvings, to textile art, to digital art, to photography, to graphical design, and, at night, to illumination art worthy of Dan Flavin. And long before Facebook, Instagram and other social media made sharing photos and artistic images a way of life, the Olympic community made community art collections an institution.

Olympic art is art on a mission. The official motto of the modern Olympics is “Sports, Education, Art.” And yes, the motto is in that order. Sports will always be the gold medal pinnacle of the Olympics. Education is essential on the podium for its role in preparing the athletes to do their very best, physically and mentally. And art earns its bronze medal rank by framing the historic achievements of the athletes and cheering them on.

In much the same way that Olympic sports unify a global community, enduring symbols unify Olympic art. These icons are simple. Their strength is in universal appeal that reaches around the world.

The Olympic rings symbolize the five continents. This symbol of a global community united by passion for sports and for excellence has become the most recognized and the most admired symbol in the world.

The Olympic Truce is portrayed by profiles of peaceful doves. The tradition of the Olympic Truce dates back to the ancient Olympics, when warring nations laid ceased hostilities during the Olympic Games to assure the athletes from different nations safe passage. It is not a reality, but it is an ideal, and Olympic Art helps brings us closer and inspire hopes for a more peaceful world in the future.

Images of laurel wreaths incorporate the symbol of victory which distinguished winners of contests I the ancient Olympics. As a universal symbol of success, these images inspired both the Olympic artists and the Olympic audience to ever greater achievements.

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