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Olympism in Action Forum

#UnitedBy art and sport - Lanny Barnes

Lanny Barnes is an American artist and athlete who competed in the biathlon in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Most recently, she attended the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as an artist-in-residence with the Olympic Art Project.


In the run-up to the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires (5-6 October 2018), we looked at groups and individuals who, inspired by the power of sport to contribute to a better world, have used their initiative to organise projects and programmes to effect change at all levels.

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When Passions Align

Many people go through life without ever discovering or fulfilling their true passions. Lanny Barnes doesn’t have that problem. In fact, the three-time Olympian has a couple of passions – sport and art – and they’re equally significant, because both bring her joy and satisfaction. The two pastimes are so intertwined in her life that they often overlap.

“The connection between art and sport is very important to me,” she says. “I've been an artist and an Olympian for a very long time, and I even used artwork to help fund my Olympic career. Art and sport have gone hand in hand for me from the beginning.”

Blending passions can be the best of both worlds, and when they align, it’s an ideal situation that many people only dream of – but Barnes is living proof that it’s possible and that the outcomes can be remarkable.

Painting with Purpose

This past winter, the American biathlete had the opportunity to go to her fourth Olympic Games, but this time she didn’t pack her skis; instead, she brought her creativity and artistic sensibility.


She, along with several other Olympic athletes, was invited to participate in the “Olympics for Arts,” during the PyeongChang 2018 Games. Developed by the IOC, the artist-in-residence programme features art that embodies the Olympic values.

As a professional artist for nearly two decades who specialises in wildlife artwork using charcoal, Barnes was the perfect pick to help encourage other Olympians to embrace and showcase their artistic talents during the Olympic Games.

“One of my responsibilities in the Olympic Art Project is to try to bring in as many Olympians as possible to help with the project and help promote art and culture throughout the Games,” she explains. “Throughout the PyeongChang 2018 Games, we brought in Olympians to work on one of 15 pieces of art – one for each sport. These pieces of art, when put together, formed the Olympic rings. They showed that everything is connected, all athletes are one. With this, we created one big happy family and promoted art and culture. It was really an exciting project to be part of.”


Championing Athleticism through Art

While art and sport may seem like an unlikely pairing, their principles are strikingly similar. Both take a tremendous amount of technique, skill and, again, passion to successfully execute.

It's important to promote art and culture throughout the Games to make that sense of everybody in the world being one and showing that art is a universal language, just like sport. Lanny Barnes

“Sport and art are so similar in many ways,” Barnes says. “A lot of people don’t realise, but the athletes competing at the Olympics are actually artists in their own way. They're out there on the course, competing at their best. They're performing a form of art. On the other hand, it’s the same with traditional art, you have to be very disciplined and focused to create artwork. A lot of the different disciplines, emotions and aspects that you put into both sport and art can go hand in hand.”

Sport and Art: Universal Languages

On the flip side, fundamentally, sport and art are not carbon copies – there are also vast differences between them.

“Yet at the same time, art and sport can also be conceived as opposites. One is ‘I'm sitting, being very still,’ and the other one is ‘I'm out on the field being very active,’ but the things I learned from art I was able to transfer over to being an Olympian and vice versa. It's pretty amazing to make that connection.”


And that bridge was effectively demonstrated through the artwork showcased during the programme. It brought the Olympic ideals and objectives to the forefront.

“When a country can display their culture through art throughout the Olympics, I think it brings the world that much closer together,” she says. “It's important to promote art and culture throughout the Games to make that sense of everybody in the world being one and showing that art is a universal language, just like sport. Everybody in the world understands sport and can watch it whatever language you speak, and it's the same for artwork – you look at a piece of artwork and you don't need to speak a certain language in order to interpret it. Everybody has their own view on it and can look at it and it's kind of a worldly picture.”

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