Clever Combinations of Classic Art and Modern Sports Photography

art but make it sports

Showing that there is more in common between paintings and modern athletes than most might think, ArtButMakeItSports has gained quite the following by combining excellent sports photography with classic artwork.

ArtButMakeItSports is operated by LJ Rader, a Director of Product at a sports and data and technology company. What started out as a way to bring smiles to his friends and family has grown into a very popular sports-based Twitter account that has become fairly well-known in the sports photography community.

“I’m a long-time sports fan and I work in the industry, and I’ve viewed everything through a sports lens for as long as I remember,” Rader tells PetaPixel.

“It started as a way to crack my friends and family up — I’d go to museums and post art with sports captions on my personal Instagram. Over time, my friends convinced me to turn it into its own account, and I eventually started to focus on the match-ups because it resonated with people. And now I guess it’s garnered a fairly large following, which is fun to see.”

Rader says that sports are particularly conducive to this type of mashup artwork because they both are heavily stepped in movement, fluidity, character, drama, and expressions.

“A lot of sports photographers consciously or subconsciously incorporate artistic techniques when framing shots. It all comes together to match up nicely,” he says.

Rader believes that the account has gotten popular because it is so relatable: viewers don’t need to know about sports or art to understand clever image comparisons. The account has gotten so popular that sports photographers will even reach out directly to Rader to ask him to create one of his juxtapositions.

“I see them just as much as artists as the artists of the work they’re paired with, so I try my hardest to make sure they’re tagged in the matchups. I’ve become friends with some, and have talked to a few about their process, because I find it fascinating,” he continues.

Part of what makes Rader’s account so popular is the speed at which he is able to produce the comparisons. Perhaps more impressive is that Rader is able to do this without formal training in art history — he just has a good memory.

“I took a class in college, but nothing official outside of that. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in museums and galleries, and a lot more in Wikipedia wormholes. So while I’m not classically trained in art history, I’ve definitely seen and captured a lot,” he explains.

“I have around 10,000 photos of art on my phone that I’ve taken, and fairly extensive knowledge of famous paintings even if I haven’t photographed them in person. So when I see a sports image, sometimes I have a pretty good sense of what it would be — I’ve started to realize that I have kind of a photographic memory of images that I’ve taken — right off the bat,” Rader continues.

“Sometimes, it immediately evokes an art history theme, such as the Lamentation, and then it’s a matter of looking through versions to see what fits best. And then finally, sometimes it visually matches an artist’s style, and then it’s about looking though what works best. Between those methods, something usually comes together. People always ask, but I don’t use any AI, and it’s just me running the account”

The ArtButMakeItSports account is mostly a hobby, though Rader has tried to find a way to monetize it so he can dedicate more time to making more compositions.

“I made some merch, mostly just to learn how to use Shopify and see if it was something I could pull off by myself. If there’s a way to make money from it without compromising the content, I’d be all ears, and it’d be cool if it allowed me to spend more time on it, but I very much just do it as a hobby. It keeps me sharp and allows me to interact with a fun community,” he says.

ArtButMakeItSports shares new clever compositions regularly on both Twitter and Instagram.