Q&A: Student-athletes explain how the arts and athletics connect

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (May 6, 2022) — Art and athletics have always been intimately linked. From 1912 to 1948, the Olympic Games included artistic competitions in five fields: architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. Medals were awards for original sports-inspired artwork. Since then, organizations like Art of the Olympians, founded by US Olympic discus champion Al Oerter, and British Olympian Roald Bradstock, have made it their mission to find the connection between sport and art.

Continuing this tradition, several students in the Digital Media Design degree program at the University of Kentucky School of Visual Arts and Studies (SA/VS) have discovered this same connection between their own artistic careers and athletic. The College of Fine Arts (CFA) had the chance to meet four of its student-athletes to discuss the symbiosis between their creativity and athletics.

Students include:

  • Darci Kahn, BA Digital Media Junior and Design Major – UK Women’s Athletics Team, 100 Meters Hurdles and 400 Meters Hurdles. Visit Darci’s website: https://darcisimone19.wixsite.com/website.
  • Lincoln T Young, Senior BA specializing in Digital Media and Design with a focus on Animation – UK Men’s Athletics Team, Pole Vaulter. Visit the Lincoln website: https://thefrozensparrow.com/. Young will be graduating from the UK today.
  • Arianna Patterson, Senior Bachelor in Digital Media and Design, with a minor in Arts and Media Studies – UK Women’s Gymnastics Team.
  • Julz Williams, BA Major in Digital Media and Design, Minor in Media Arts and Studies – UK Women’s Cross Country and Athletics Team.

CFA: What is the link between art and athletics in your life?

Kahn: I tend to enjoy the process of creating art, but I’m not always happy with the result. Usually, when I’m not satisfied with the result, many of my peers LOVE my work. Same with the track: I like the process of improvement and practice, but sometimes the result doesn’t always end up the way I planned. But people around me always remind me that I’m doing amazing things and I’m exactly where I need to be.

Young: There are a lot of parallels between what I do in athletics and with my art. The most literal is how having a good sense of movement and how the body works gave me a big advantage when animating because it’s second nature to break down physical movement into its component parts. Also, the art and pole vaulting are similar in that the goal is simple and there are very few, if any, rules for achieving it. Much like how the best flyers all do certain things the same way according to the laws of physics, too many good works of art have things in common, and there are principles that can be used to focus creativity to create something beautiful. I think it’s this balance between order and intuition that leads to good athletic performance and the creation of an emotionally moving piece of art.

Paterson: As an “artistic gymnast”, attention to detail has always been an important part of gymnastics, which has permeated into all areas of my life, especially my creative endeavours. My main interests are video editing, graphic design and dubbing. I made some music videos and edited gymnastics videos for my team. I also make coloring books for children. I think all of this includes some sort of rhythm. Each piece, whether it’s a video, a graphic piece or a voice-over script, has its own song and every detail is like a dance. One thing I’ve always loved is making things look pretty. I like to make my gymnastics skills look pretty with beautifully straight legs, pointy toes, gorgeous leaps and bounds. I also like to make cute videos with nice angles, edits and cuts, and graphic designs with nice colors, patterns and textures.

Williams: There is definitely a connection between the arts and athletics in my life. I got really involved in the arts in my second year of high school when I started my YouTube channel. At the time it was solely focused on my life as an aspiring college runner and now my art is totally influenced and encouraged by the community of runners and other young athletes around me.

CFA: How does one influence the other?

Kahn: Art and the track are my two outlets in life. If life isn’t going so well, I always have a trail and art to help me feel better and forget about the rest of the world.

Young: I don’t think art and athletics really influence each other, for me personally. Although they are similar, I found no advantage in trying to achieve some sort of symbiosis between the two. Beyond the fact that art reflects life and I’ve done a few projects in the past that reference my sport, there’s not a lot of overlap.

Paterson: I think the attention to detail has positively influenced what I do creatively.

Williams: Starting my YouTube channel is what ultimately led me to find my passion in the digital art space, and there will always be a part of my running in my art because that was such a big part of that which got me started. The sensations and excitement that come from running carry over to what I create in my art.

CFA: What came first – your artistic motivation or your athletic motivation?

Kahn: My athletic drive came first. I’ve been playing sports since I was two years old, but never allowed myself to really tap into my artistic side until my senior year of high school. I loved doing art projects during my early childhood, but I never took the time to devote myself to them.

Young: My artistic dynamism came a little before my athletic dynamism. I have always loved sports activities; however, I knew that art, whatever it was, was something I wanted to pursue in my life long before I started pole vaulting.

Paterson: I think that as a gymnast, my athletic and artistic motivations complement each other. Gymnastics is a perfect balance between athletic performance and artistry, unlike many other sports. You can’t have one without the other, both are very necessary to be a great gymnast.

Williams: My athletic drive definitely came first. I grew up being super active and always involved in some sort of sport or activity. In high school, I saw my desperate need for a creative outlet. Creating and editing videos/photos filled that void I had and really allowed me to thrive in my race.

CFA: What else would you like to share about your experience as a student-athlete and artist?

Kahn: My favorite thing about both art and track is that I am able to influence and inspire children and young people with my talents. Many athletes tend not to embrace other talents we might have because we are so focused on our sports. I chose to major in art because art is something I want to learn more about and am passionate about. I encourage everyone to choose an area that they love and want to learn, just as they love and want to learn more about their sport.

Young: For me, art has always been an innate gift, and even if it requires a lot of effort and dedication, I always have control over the result. I think my sporting career has been beneficial to me because it’s almost the complete opposite. My sport also takes a ton of effort and dedication but, at least for me, I have next to no control over how my body performs. It taught me a lot of patience and humility. Pole vaulting is a very mental sport, and if you can maintain composure when your brain isn’t doing what you want, then it’s pretty easy to do in most other areas of your life.

Paterson: My career goals are to continue making coloring books for kids, doing many kinds of video projects like music videos and commercials, and becoming a successful comedian.

Williams: Being a student-athlete and artist has given me so many opportunities that I never thought possible. I was able to create multiple videos for national high school running media and connect with people across the country and encourage them in all their passions and pursuits. Having the chance to reach people and convey love and joy to them through my art and my love for sports has been so fulfilling and truly a blessing.

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