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Tokyo 2020: The Art of the Olympics

Hannah Carley's artistic perspective on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games.

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Image Credit: Markus Spiske via Pexels

The Olympic and Paralympic games are quite often considered to be the pinnacle of global sporting excellence. What is less often considered however, is their significant contribution to our global cultural and artistic landscape, dating back centuries. The ancient Greek origins of the games saw art and sport go hand in hand, a challenge to both the body and the mind.

Early decades of the modern Olympics followed this example, awarding medals for architecture, literature, musical composition, painting and sculpture until 1948. This cultural and artistic legacy has since continued in numerous formats, but in particular through the Olympic art posters.

Olympic art posters have been created by the organising committees of their respective games since the early 20th century, both advertising the event as well as celebrating the host city. Many internationally renowned artists have worked on these posters over the years, which become unique symbols of each individual Olympic competition. Tokyo 2020 is no exception, with a collection of posters worked on by renowned artists from both Japan and the rest of the world.

The posters most likely to be familiar are the emblem studies by Asao Tokolo, which showcase the original concepts including visual guides and erased lines - that eventually became the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic logos respectively. The designs are a tribute to the creators of the Tokyo 1964 logo who would have worked with the simple tools of compasses and rulers, and although computers were partly used in the finished logo, were first created by hand. The striking nature of the calculative repeating pattern seems to also reflect the value of precision within Japanese society, as well as in sport.

Another poster showcasing line drawings is Olympic Stadium by Philippe Weisbecker. As the name suggests, the simple piece aptly created on rice paper depicts an image of the olympic stadium in Weisbecker’s own vision. Compared to the other works it is strikingly simplistic, with few shapes and colours, but yet its design can be immediately likened to the overhead shots of the venue that you have likely seen over recent weeks.The simple nature of the stadium’s image showcases well how the true stars of the games are not the venues or the host city, but the athletes themselves who go on to fill them.

However the posters showcase a variety of art forms that go further than line drawing, including graphic design, calligraphy and photography. One example of photography is Takashi Homma’s Tokyo Children. The photograph depicts a young boy in front of a yellow sculpture. To Homma this represents how the games belong to all people, both young and old. The image also serves as a powerful reminder of the positive impact the Olympics can have on inspiring younger generations - something we saw here in the UK after London 2012.

Some posters were also designed specifically for the Paralympic games in their own right. One of these is Paralympian by graphic design studio Goo Choki Par. The artwork depicts an unidentifiable athlete in motion, embodying movement and the determination of athletes to continue to strive forward. Removing identifiers such as nationality and gender from this depiction allows the work to represent all athletes around the world, and emphasises the unique value of the individual achievements of each athlete in their own right. A key theme of the games this year has been the incredible perseverance of athletes under such unprecedented and challenging circumstances - the intention of this piece captures that perfectly in art.

All the posters for both the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games are as vibrant and expansive as the global events they represent. They truly reflect both the spirit of Tokyo and the spirit of global sport. Yet the influence the games can have on arts and culture is still majorly overlooked. Most people will watch the tv coverage and would be able to name a medallist or two if asked, but will never know that these posters exist. It’s disappointing, for if nothing but the reason that the artwork is outstanding and worth looking at.

On a deeper level though, it perpetuates the idea that all the Olympics stand for is a ‘cool sporting competition’, when in reality they represent a peaceful union or coming together of all peoples and nations. It stands for peace and for hope, even worth a backdrop of fear and struggle. Few things bring people together like art - it’s a universal language. So when we fail to recognize and appreciate the artistic and cultural significance of the Olympics, we fail to recognise the true significance of the movement in it’s own right.

So if you get bored with the Paralympics coverage over the next few days, maybe go and take a look at all of the Tokyo 2020 posters. They are fantastic, you’ll enjoy looking at them and - maybe more importantly - you can learn a bit more about both Japan and the true spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic games as a whole.

All of the Tokyo 2020 official arts posters can be seen on the website.

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