And after [Dallas’ flag at number 21] there’s a huge drop-off to number 55: Houston, where the flag dates back to 1840, when the city was all of four years old. Just as we don’t allow pre-K kids to get inked up, we should not allow toddler cities to attempt to brand themselves for all eternity.
Although a locomotive is the dominant element here, this represented an invitation more than a reality: no train would churn into Houston until years later. And although trains did play an important role in the development of Houston and continue to be a vital part of the economy today, they are widely loathed for all the traffic snarls they cause.
Despite the criticism there isn’t apparently any serious effort to improve it. But there are several humorous and artistic redesign proposals.
This series grows from the desire to see American icons used in a way that represents the United States as the melting pot that it is. As several fellow tweeters observed, images of the U.S. flag, bald eagles and the like are often displayed in profiles throughout social media to indicate a specific brand of patriotism. Too often, many of these “patriots” lack an inclusive view of what “American” is. Unfortunately, this restrictive point of view is not limited to social media profiles… As a child, I remember watching my father, who served 20 years in the Air Force, quietly replace our flag each time it was stolen from our porch by our “neighbors.” I listened to my mother who taught us to assimilate for success but not be a “typical American.” To this day, I am still conflicted when expressing my “patriotism.”
In the blog half of her project, Patriot Survey Says!!, Yo has been collecting “stories honoring your personal multinational journeys.” The other half of the project is vexillographically fascinating: the use of circular, roundel-like combinations of national flags. Each consists of an outer ring made up of elements of a national flag, surrounding an inner disk made up of part of, or elements from, a second nation’s flag. (Yo sells clothing using these proprietary designs on Redbubble.com.)
These circularized “flags” are organized according to the outer, surrounding ring. For example, here is part of the collection of flags with the United States surrounding other North American flags:
In cases where the non-US flag is based on a star, or stars, an alternative scheme of orbiting stars (the “hybrid header”) is offered in addition to the standard scheme (the “swirl header”). For example:
South Korea is a special case. Rather than representing the flag of South Korea surrounded by a swirl of the US, the order is reversed:
Art Basel is a series of international contemporary art fairs with a large online catalog. Their Miami Beach 2015 event is happening now, with 10,665 artworks by 3086 artists. Here are 15 works that feature flags.
Alain Jacquet: Camouflage Jasper Johns, La voix de son Maître, 1963. Oil on canvas.
Robert Longo: Study of American Flag X-2, 2012. Ink and charcoal on vellum.
Roe Ethridge: Louise with Flag, 2014. Dye Sublimation Print on Aluminum.
Judith Bernstein: Union Jack-off on US Policy in Vietnam, 1967. Charcoal and oil stick on paper.
Jonathan Horowitz: Rainbow American Flag for Jasper in the Style of the Artist’s Boyfriend, 2014. Glitter and enamel on linen.
Guardian art critic and famed contrarian Jonathan Jones, that’s who.
The decision this summer by the British team at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing not to include the Union Jack on team uniforms prompted Jones to write an essay slamming the UK flag. He titled it We don’t need the union jack on Team GB’s kit – it’s ugly and divisive. Here are the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your feelings towards that flag) of what he says, in his own words:
The trouble with the United Kingdom’s flag, when you come to think about it, is that it is really quite ugly. … It looks crap.
[It’s a] jagged, explosive, aggressive flag.
[It looks like] it embodies an imperial arrogance or a coercive union that keeps Scotland in its place.
With its cluttered burst of both right-angled and diagonal radiating lines, the British flag is heavy and overbearing, forceful and strident.
Instead of suggesting unity, its sharp-angled divisions imply fragmentation. In fact, the relentless dynamism of its design evokes the shock and shatter of a cannon ball smashing into a French ship at the Battle of Trafalgar.
You don’t see many other countries imitating the British flag.
In its very origin, [it’s] a compromise, a merging of different national symbols.
Perhaps the union flag itself is a psychological boost to nationalists who want to break up Britain. Its sheer pompous ugliness unconsciously damages the image of the union.
So here is an idea to save the United Kingdom as a political, emotional and cultural entity. Let’s invent a new flag. Let’s visually forget the history of internal compromise and external violence this flag so unattractively embodies. A new flag for a new Britain might help us love our – whole – nation again.
As one might expect, judging by the comments and other internet reactions, the article was not well received, particularly by conservatives (the Guardian is explicitly left-leaning). For the vexillologist, however, it is noteworthy as a rare example of flag aesthetics being discussed in the popular media, from a standpoint of art criticism. Whether or not one agrees with Jones’ phrased-to-maximize-controversy assertions, his piece does raise some interesting questions for further research and discussion by the flag studies community:
If we are to consider flags as art, what practices of art criticism would help us to see them in new ways?
How would a flag convey pomposity and arrogance, or their opposite?
What are different tactics for representing unity? Are some more effective than others?
What is the role of compromise vs. individual artistic expression in flag design? Are the results of compromise always “compromised” aesthetically?
Why hasn’t the union jack, unlike the US flag or the French flag, been more widely imitated? Are there examples beyond the Basque flag and the provincial flag of Newfoundland and Labrador?
To encourage loyalty, tobacco companies used to give away a small collectible piece of printed fabric (a “silk”) with each pack of cigarettes. Kovels Antiques notes, “popular subjects included actors and actresses, animals, baseball players, college mascots and seals, flags, generals, Indians, kings and queens, U.S. presidents, and Hamilton King girls.”
This 1915 set from the Imperial Tobacco Company (ITC) of Canada mashed up animals and flags, with often surreal results:
ITC does not appear to have been much concerned with the accuracy of the flags depicted, frequently taking artistic license. Taken together, these silks provide strange and fanciful vexillological imagery from a century ago.
Nimai Kesten (www.nimaikesten.com) grew up in an abusive Hare Krishna boarding school in Lake Huntington, NY before transforming “into a loud-mouthed, rebellious, New York City graffiti writing skateboarder” and surfer. He writes in his bio:
In his early 20’s, Nimai began to look at the life he carved out on the streets of New York for himself – skateboarding, graffiti, nightclubs, partying, models, fashion, and general juvenile superficial mayhem. And, suddenly, for the first time, he began to examine this pop culture world through, new, spiritual eyes. But the eyes of a man so horribly wronged by the leaders of a Faith he was born into, that the contradictions, confusion, and questions became all consuming.
Nimai moved to Venice Beach, California in 2002 to focus on his art as a cathartic means to make sense of his conflicting, personal ideas of ‘Faith’ and the corruption of one’s ‘Beliefs’.
In several of his pieces he has turned to the American flag and its contradictions.
Thanks to the contemporary flag art blog flagworkz.tumblr.com for bringing this remarkable artist to our attention!
What flag designs make good pinwheels? Let’s consider…
South Korea: The Taegukgi lends itself extremely well.
China: Does not seem to be common, but here is an example.
Hong Kong: The design is practically already a pinwheel. But has anyone made it into one?
Palestine. We couldn’t find flag-based pinwheels, but we did come across this project by the American Friends Service Committee involving black pinwheels to protest the 521 Palestinian children killed during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014.
United Kingdom. Like Hong Kong, the design is pinwheelish.
United States. Many examples, as stars-and-stripes can be put on practically anything, even if the flag itself isn’t pinwheelish.