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How a social media creator matches modern sports images with classic works of art


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: More than 100 million viewers in the U.S. are expected to tune into the Super Bowl this Sunday. These days, major live sporting events are often a two-screen experience.

But one unusual fan puts a different lens on the moment, exploring the symmetry with sports and arts through social media.

Jeffrey Brown looks at this viral phenomenon for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown : A contemporary football celebration juxtaposed with Giotto's Lamentation from 1305, a player taunting his opponent with the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio.

Sports highlights, arts masterworks sit side by side and gaining hundreds of thousands of social media views in a digital project launched in 2019 called Art But Make It Sports, created by a 34-year-old New York sports fan L.J. Rader.

L.J. Rader, Art But Make It Sports: I try to see things through a sports lens, even if it's a piece of fine art, trying to figure out, what could that moment in art be in sports? What could I compare it to image wise that might make somebody look at it and say, yes, like I get it, I can see the parallels here?

And I think that's part of why the account resonates with people, because they're not often used to seeing art and sports talked about or put next to each other visually.

Jeffrey Brown : Why is it obvious to you that they belong together?

L.J. Rader: There are a lot of parallels when it comes to the emotion that you find in fine art and then you find in the sporting arena. There's obviously the visual component with limbs and people moving around in a frame.

Oftentimes, you will see on social media people post a photo from a sports event and say, hang it in the Louvre, as a indication that they can see something that's artistic about it. And then I come in and actually find the piece of art that sports image actually resembles.

Jeffrey Brown : Rader's day job is with a sports data and technology firm, but his passion is curating his collection of thousands of photos taken at museums.

He took a grand total of one art history course in college, but he's a longtime amateur art lover.

L.J. Rader: The true starting off point is when I go to museums and galleries and take photos. I put them all in one folder on my phone. And so I have this massive folder of all these images that I have taken and have kind of come to memorize.

Jeffrey Brown : Did you say memorize? You have memorized, like, hundreds, thousands of images?

L.J. Rader: Yes, so maybe it's not directly memorizing every detail, but it's knowing certain patterns that exist, certain themes within a museum, and then a good chunk of actual paintings that I kind of know how they're composed so that when I see something, oftentimes, see something in sports, oftentimes, I can go in my mind's eye and say, oh, that reminds me of such and such painting.

Jeffrey Brown : And it's not just the more obvious match of a body or specific image. Radar gets his biggest pleasures out of more abstract connections.

L.J. Rader: There's one I did Milwaukee Brewers players sliding into home plate and the catcher and the umpire, I believe are -- both have their arms out at the same time. And it's trying to think through, what could that be, and trying to match on hopefully that moment, maybe the colors of the composition.

I landed on a Yves Klein painting where -- very similar positions. And, yes, the more abstract ones tend to get people really excited because it's not something that they thought of directly.

Jeffrey Brown : So there is a bit of art in putting these things together?

L.J. Rader: Yes, I guess artistry, maybe curation. I don't quite know what to consider myself. But, yes, I think the -- it sort of takes, maybe not to an elevated level, but just sort of an extension of what the original intention might have been. And I think that, in itself, I guess, is -- there's some artistry to it.

Jeffrey Brown : Some have wondered aloud whether Rader is relying on artificial intelligence to make his matches. But other than using A.I. to help organize his pictures, he says:

L.J. Rader: It's really just me.

Jeffrey Brown : So we have the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, of course. Do you watch in a way that's different from the rest of us, images, rather than touchdowns?


L.J. Rader: Yes, I think I watch the same as the average sports fan, but maybe in the back of my head, when I see a moment, sometimes, it just immediately clicks to what that could be in the art world.

Jeffrey Brown : Well, and how about a prediction for the game? Some people might predict the winner. You're looking at, what, Patrick Mahomes and Picasso?

L.J. Rader: Hopefully, something happens where I can make that parallel.

I think the Chiefs have been really good for inspiration over the course of the season and the playoffs. So, maybe I'm pulling for them just so I could potentially do Mahomes and Picasso, or a Jason Kelce and Feast of Bacchus, but, yes, hoping for good content to come out of it.

Jeffrey Brown : Art But Make It Sports.

L.J. Rader, thank you very much.

L.J. Rader: Thanks for having me.

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