Pierre De Coubertin's Olympic Exploration of Modernism, 1894-1914: Aesthetics, Ideology and the Spectacle

By Brown, Douglas A. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, June 1996 | Go to article overview

Pierre De Coubertin's Olympic Exploration of Modernism, 1894-1914: Aesthetics, Ideology and the Spectacle


Brown, Douglas A., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


The Olympic idea is in our view the conception of a strong physical culture based in part on the spirit of chivalry, which you so attractively call "fair play," and in part on an aesthetic idea, the cult of beauty and grace.(1)

Pierre de Coubertin, 1908.

The suggestion that the Olympic idea is partially aesthetic is familiar to most of us who study the principles and objectives of the modern Olympic Movement and the unique and eclectic interests of the movement's founder, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.(2) Traditionally, scholars have relegated Coubertin's aesthetic idea into the short, dull history of the Olympic Fine Arts Competitions. Ultimately, the aesthetic idea has been buried in the so-called "cultural component" of the modern Olympic Movement, and has been embraced without so much as a pause to contemplate its origin or significance.(3) As a consequence, an incredibly rich and complex cultural legacy of the modern Olympic Movement remains unexplored for fear of crossing the conventional disciplinary boundaries of academia.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of Coubertin's aesthetic idea and the cultural manifestations that it inspired. My research focuses on original sources from the first 20 years of the modern Olympic Movement, 1894 to 1914. In one sense, this paper is an exploration of the history of ideas. In another sense, it is an exploration of the history of cultural production. This paper was motivated by a series of questions: Why were art, aesthetics, and beauty such important considerations in Coubertin's theories of modern Olympism? What is the connection between Coubertin's aesthetic idea and the symbols we associate with Olympism? How do we contextualize Coubertin's aesthetic idea within the broader aesthetic movement known as modernism? The scope of these questions is immense, and I do not expect to produce conclusive answers. For this reason, I have established a point of departure - some primary assumptions - that allows me to examine the concepts of culture, aesthetics, and modernism in the historical context of the modern Olympic Movement.

My exploration begins with the assumption that Pierre de Coubertin consciously used aesthetic theory to help him establish a cultural association between sport and the sociopolitical ideology, Olympism. In other words, Coubertin drew on normative ideas about beauty to develop symbols and texts that would illuminate the meaning of Olympism for a broad international audience. From a theoretical perspective, culture is defined as "those texts and practices whose principal function is to signify, to produce or to be the occasion for the production of meaning."(4) Culture is discursive (our ideas about what constitutes the production of meaning are defined by history and society).(5) At different moments in time cultural discourse produces dominant perspectives, normative viewpoints, and specific systems of encoding and decoding meaning into, and from, texts and practices. Sport, like art, theater, and literature, is an occasion for the production of meaning. Coubertin recognized sport as a cultural practice and used aesthetic theory to articulate the images and experiences produced by it with the social and political ideas that constituted the meaning of Olympism. Olympism is a type of universal humanism; that is, a social and political ideology with a central tenet that all humankind shares common values such as peace and respect.

Coubertin produced a body of work, a cultural oeuvre, that articulated in theory and practice his aesthetic idea with different discourses that shaped the political and social agenda of his ideology, Olympism. The years 1894 to 1914 were, perhaps, the most dynamic in the cultural history of the modern Olympic Movement. To delimit this paper further, I will focus on two complementary products of this cultural legacy: Coubertin's concept of eurythmie and one of his favorite genres of cultural performance, the fete sportif. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Pierre De Coubertin's Olympic Exploration of Modernism, 1894-1914: Aesthetics, Ideology and the Spectacle
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.