Fine art tells the story of the 2023 NFL playoffs

Sports have a long history of inspiring art.

there he is resting boxerin the National Museum of Rome. It is over 2,000 years old. In the British Museum resides the Townley Discobolosa Greek statue depicting a discus thrower, that’s even older.

There are paintings and sculptures of struggle, fox hunting, foot races, car races and so on.

“The human body is a deep and complex source of inspiration,” visual artist and architectural designer Maurice Casas told ESPN. “It serves as a reminder of who we are. The human body is a shell filled with the attributes, complexities and anxieties of our humanity that at some point need to be expressed.”

That blend of artistic expression and sports comes together in a popular social media feed: Art But Make It Sports (@ArtButSports).

“I like to view art through a sports lens,” LJ Rader, the creator behind the account, told ESPN.

The creation of fine art memes comes from someone who has no background or education in art history, but rather “a fan who has spent significant time delving into artists and different styles and motifs within the art space.”

His work was on display throughout the NFL playoffs, including Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. From Raphael to Rubens, here is the history of the postseason through the paintings.

Mahomes suffered an ankle injury in the AFC divisional round against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The injury usually requires a recovery time of 4-6 weeks. Mahomes missed just one series. Often limping, he threw for 508 yards and five touchdowns in the two games following the injury while earning Super Bowl MVP honors. Some might call that miraculous.

“Whoever is capturing the image in sports is doing Titan-like things where you want to provoke a reaction,” Rader said. “You want to show the beauty and movement of an athlete in the same way that you might want to show the beauty and movement of a religious scene.”

Rader chose three different paintings featuring Jesus Christ for his Mahomes posts.

Hang these works in the Louvre

Art But Make It Sports began in 2015. Its database of world-class paintings is often the extension of the images on Rader’s phone. He has photographs of around 7,500 paintings from museums he has visited around the world. Rader said she has tried to memorize what’s in the photo archive of him so she’ll be ready when a play or moment occurs in a game.

“There is a sports image that happens in a game and I know exactly, by heart, the [artwork] it’s something I took a picture of or saw,” Rader said. “I can tell what it’s going to look like, what art history motif it might be…or start thinking about what style of artist it might be.”

High Renaissance and Baroque were his themes for the NFL playoffs. Britannica describes the Baroque as “stylistically complex, even contradictory. In general, however, the desire to evoke emotional states by appealing to the senses, often in dramatic fashion, underlies its manifestations.”

Fighting styles? Emotions and drama? Surely a baroque artist would love postseason sports. Yet while Raphael’s work is known for its grandeur and what Britannica calls a classical spirit that is “harmonious, beautiful and serene,” Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow, featured alongside the painter’s “Fire In The Borgo” , you might not agree.

The work of French neoclassical painter Jacques Louis-David was used for two other AFC playoff works. Some memes don’t always tell the full story. Baltimore Ravens QB Tyler Huntley’s jump attempt ended in a fumble which the Bengals returned 98 yards for a score. Napoleon was eventually exiled.

modern interpretations

While his memes often use European paintings from the medieval and Renaissance eras, Rader’s personal favorites are more modern and include Alice Neel, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Bill Traylor. Modern art, however, can be more difficult to use due to interpretations of the human body.

“Modern artists represent people in more diverse and complex ways and styles than previous art movements, because they are on the other side of history hundreds of years apart,” Casas said.

Impressionist, real, and contemporary styles were used to capture some of the scenes from the postseason.

“I really like the work of the old masters, probably because they’re good at generating memes, but some of the more contemporary work I have a really hard time getting behind,” Rader said, of his favorite artists to use for the stream. “The most abstract work can definitely play, if done right.”

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