Rory 23 Oh the Humanity

Oh, the Humanity

Going behind the canvas to explore the unique gift that drives Art But Make it Sports

It’s not a bot. You probably thought it was. I was more than a little suspicious; some of this stuff just doesn’t seem humanly possible. But then, a name: L.J. OK, that didn’t sound too bot-ish. A few messages about a meeting seemed…normal. Finally, a video call. And, sure enough, L.J. was not some amorphous mishmash of code. I found a soft-spoken, brown-haired 32-year-old who grew up an hour outside of New York City and makes references to his hopeless Knicks in casual conversation, and whose nervous chuckles made plain he had never been interviewed before. But he understood why we were here. The buzz surrounding his Art But Make It Sports account meant he could no longer hide.

The Abduction of Psyche is an oil-on-canvas painting by French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau from 1895. It depicts the Roman god Cupid sweeping his lover, the beautiful princess Psyche, into heaven. The painting is currently housed in a private collection. It also hangs in the gallery of L.J. Rader’s mind, alongside thousands of other classics. When Rader saw how Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan’s body twisted while being carried off the court by his teammates during the 2022 NBA playoffs, he knew within seconds: DeRozan was Psyche. He paired the painting with a screengrab of DeRozan and hit the button.

To be clear, this is not posting kittens playing with babies. The social media intersection of classic, often obscure art with sports pictures would seem to be a niche within a niche. Rader admits he only “caved” and started the Twitter and Instagram accounts in 2019 at the behest of his friends, who clearly recognized his freaky gift well before he did. They were right: Tens of thousands liked the DeRozan/Psyche post, and tens of thousands more now follow his accounts, often gleefully replying with their own pairings.

Rader’s talent began as a coping mechanism. His parents often took him to museums as a child, and he hated it. In order to pass the time, he tried to find the sports equivalent in each piece of artwork. Over the years, however, he began to appreciate what was on display. As an adult with a job that allowed him to travel, he found himself extending his trips so he could stalk whichever galleries he could find. Today, the photo albums on his phone are packed with thousands of paintings, all fodder for the next post.

Oh the Humanity

(Top )Apollo and Daphne, variant of Sebastiano Ricci original, circa 1720
(Bottom) John Daly celebrates winning the 1995 Open Championship as a streaker runs onto the green. Photo by David Cannon/Allsport

“I have terrible recall for things that matter,” he says. “I have a hard time with my family’s birthdays and where I put my keys. But I guess I have a pretty good way of connecting sports things with art things.”

He tells me this minutes after discussing how he saw a Max Liebermann painting on a recent trip to Munich, Germany, and “instantly knew” he should pair it with an image from an exceedingly minor news story from 2005: Before the Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Notre Dame, it was revealed that star Buckeyes linebacker A.J. Hawk was dating Fighting Irish quarterback Brady Quinn’s sister, and she showed up to the game wearing a split jersey of both teams. He lights up telling the story. These are the moments of epiphany that keep him going at his prolific pace.

As for the future of the account, Rader has no major plans. He says some of his biggest thrills have come from a few professors who have added his collaborations to their classes, and from art students who say his posts have helped them see their world in a new, more accessible way.

And yes, Rader golfs. He says he is “terrible,” but can be found on NYC’s public offerings on weekends. So we offered a challenge: We sent a raft of images and asked him to work his magic. What follows is his swift reaction, including a few he added himself. “I knew that Bacon was perfect for Rory,” he says with his aw-shucks grin and a joy that no bot could ever achieve.

(Left) Dancer on Pointe, by Edgar Degas, 1878
(Right) Payne Stewart wins the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Photo by David Cannon/Allsport

(Left) The Abduction of the Sabine Women, by Nicolas Poussin, 1637–38 
(Right) Tiger Woods celebrates after winning the 2005 Masters. Photo by Getty Images

(Left) Devil Fish, by Alexander Calder, 1937. 68 × 64 × 47 inches.
(Right) Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1950 Women’s All-American Golf Tournament at Chicago’s Tam O’Shanter Country Club. Photo by Ed Maloney/Associated Press

(Left) Two Goats, by Rosa Bonheur, 1870
(Right) Tiger Woods looks on as his son, Charlie, plays at the 2021 PNC Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf ClubGrande Lakes in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

(Left) Salome With the Head of John the Baptist, by Titian, 1550
(Right) Annika. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

All artwork considered public domain unless otherwise credited.