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What Are We Fighting For?

Viewer Discretion Is Advised

The following is an explanation to my recent posts featuring images of the American flag. I open this up to respectful discourse; I am interested in hearing opinions on this matter and don’t expect for everyone to agree. But at this point, if anyone is disrespectful, I will simply delete your posts.

On Facebook, I posted a series of art pieces depicting an American flag positioned in a variety of distressful configurations: it was tied in a knot, hung through a noose, crumpled into a ball, and tied up with rope. The response was overwhelming and included a wide variety of reactions, from praise for the artistry and political statements made, to accusations of anti-Americanism, profanity, and threats. My flag pieces hold a mirror up to America, and some people don’t like what they see.  

The post took on a life of its own with respectful public discourse along with outright name calling and infighting. Within hours, the interactions verified the artwork’s validity: the posts themselves became virtual artworks and everyone who contributed was now part of it.

The biggest issue that emerged was my use of the American flag itself as a medium. Many veterans took a stand for AND against its use. I was lauded for exploring the artistic theme, in the manner of political art throughout history that includes Picasso and Banksy. But more disturbing was that some suggested I was a traitor who should be drawn and quartered, thrown in jail, or deported because it is “illegal to desecrate the flag.” Clearly these zealots don’t respect the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment of the Constitution, nor do they know the law. It is not against the law to manipulate the flag in this way.

For me, the images simply and concisely express my feelings of where the country is, at this particular moment in time. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle I am on, or which you are on. I believe that everyone can agree that America is in a knot, tied up, in a twist over all manner of things including income and racial inequality, racism, misogyny, gender identity, culture wars, media accuracy and consumption, and of course, politics. The even split between positive and negative posts show this to be exactly true.

Contributors posted other images of the flag being used in various ways that included underwear briefs, a bikini, a bandana, and worse yet, Kid Rock wearing it as a poncho with a hole cut through. Were those same angry people who posted on my page as outraged by this? Apparently not, as it seemed to me that when challenged with these images, somehow, they suddenly shut up.

Someone suggested that I needed to take down my flag images because they were inflammatory and upsetting people (snowflakes indeed). My intention was not to throw gas on the fire; my posts are simply a need to express myself and my feelings about the current state of affairs in America.

In an effort to smooth the waters and to confront my detractors, I offer this perspective:

1. For those who tell me my images are not art: For the record, I have a degree in art, and I’ve have been a professional artist for over 45+ years. My work has won many awards, and is found in museums and prominent galleries across the globe. It’s okay if you don’t like what I post, but I doubt you are qualified to define my work as art or not.

For me, art is an expression of an idea or feeling. Good art raises an emotional response; it makes me think about what I’m seeing, question my own values, and it may possibly change my world view. These works do all that. They are how I feel about the country I love. They were not created to intentionally inflame or hurt anyone (or generate likes or clicks, as one person suggested). Sometimes, an artistic idea just shows up and comes out. I know that real artists out there understand this.

Some may not like some art, and that is your right, and you have the freedom to say so, even on my feed. But it is still art. Some say that only critics can judge art: in this case the critics confirmed that it is, in fact – good art. One of these pieces recently returned from an International art show, placing 16th out of 1600+ entries from over 87 countries. It also sold at a museum show.

Others say art requires intent to be art. I intended this to be art. It was my creative expression. Hence it is Art.

Also, by contributing on this social media thread you are validating that it is art AND, in this case, you have become part of the art piece itself. Congratulations, you’re an artist, a collaborator in an online happening. Thank you for your participation. If this upsets you, then it might be best to un-follow me.

2. Regarding self-expression: Some said I should be thrown in jail: isn’t that what dictatorships and repressed countries do—throw their artists in jail? Do we really want the United States of America to be like them? Don’t we, as Americans, have the right and the freedom to express ourselves in any way we choose?

Take a breath, and really think about this. If, you support American freedom, then as painful and as disagreeable as any content may be to you, you must uphold the   freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. No one is taking away my right to speak, and for the record, no one is taking away my guns.

3. Flag etiquette: Some posted links to the information about U.S. Flag Codes and suggested that I can’t possibly know these rules. I do. There is a proper way to handle, fold, AND burn a flag; I’ve retired / burned a number of flags, conducted with dignity, and respect. A flag should be retired if worn out, and displaying a tattered flag is disrespectful. I’ve performed ceremonial retirements with readings and even pulled eyelets out from the ashes for burial.  I wonder—how many of my detractors have done the same? This is a most solemn ceremony that honors the many lives that have been lost while they fought for all Americans and their freedoms. I’ve also attended a military funeral, twenty-one gun salute and our family was given a flag. I understand the meaning of the American flag.  For me, it means freedom.

To all those who have served: I give you my deepest and most heartfelt thanks. I am sincerely sorry if my posts may have brought pain and anguish; that is not my intention. For me, this country is worth fighting for and this is the only way I know how—though my art.

4. Crossing the line: Some suggested that because this was a “real” flag, then I crossed the line into treacherous, disrespectful territory. But who decides where that line is? If the flag was carved out of wood in a trompe l’oeil format, would that be okay? What about all those home-made pallet flags, created out of salvaged wood and sitting in the mud, or barns with flags on their roofs or sides, with paint eventually peeling off in places? Should we demand that those crafters should be thrown in jail?

From my perspective, using the flag in advertising at the local car dealer or appliance store or at NFL games is more disrespectful—it is being displayed purely for profit. But where is the outrage at the NFL? For good or bad, apparently, it’s only when someone chooses to kneel during the National Anthem (another debate that has tied Americans into knots).

5. Patriotism: I was accused of being unpatriotic. The fact is, I love my country and I am very concerned about its current state. And I’m trying to do something about it. By showing these works, I was painfully saying that something is wrong and I want it to be fixed. As Ron Paul, a famous conservative congressman from Texas wrote in Liberty Defined, “Great danger is imminent when criticism of the government is considered unpatriotic.” Criticizing and creating change in America is the most patriotic thing a person, and especially an artist, can do.

In the end, what frustrated me most was the righteousness of many people who posted. They often were the most disrespectful, the most inflammatory, the most judgmental. That is what is most unpatriotic when talking about the American flag.

Thank you to all those who support my artistic endeavors, and as they say, God Bless America

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1 Comment

  1. Al Dias

    Well stated Scott!

    I am glad that I have the honor of meeting you as a classmate and as a fellow human being.

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