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Flag Desecration as Art

The University of Maine at Farmington is apparently teaching a rather impoverished view of art.

A student there did an “art project” that consisted of laying American flags on the floor.

Did the University nix the project because it required no creative vision and confused political protest with art?

Of course not. Not only did the project go on, but it was protected by guards.

In a video of the project, the University’s provost tells an American veteran that he didn’t fight for a piece of cloth.

But if it’s only a piece of cloth, what’s the point of the desecration?

Meanwhile, as such abstractions are lost on the students at the University of Maine, as well as those who are supposed to educate them, others of college age fight to protect their freedom of expression.

10 thoughts on “Flag Desecration as Art

  1. Anonymous –

    How do I define art? Ugh … good question. I would think there are several variables. The first is that it is an act of creation. As applied to flags, the creation of the first flag with the concept of stars and stripes, the blue field and where all those things went – that was artistic and a creation. Making replicas of that flag out of duct tape or another material, while it is constructing something, is not creating something.

    Art must be an expression of something one feels within. That is what makes some art both beautiful and disturbing. We appreciate the skill and the vulnerability and risk but are at times offended by what is portrayed. The flag has meaning in each and every characteristic and color of the banner. I find no inner expression in Ms. Crane’s piece. She admittedly was not expressing herself, she was seeking information.

    The goal of art is to inspire or to make one think or feel. We marvel at the Cistine Chapel, shake our heads at the skill in Michelangelo’s ‘David’, are moved by ‘The Last Supper’ or are swept along by Handel’s ‘Water Music’. I can understand that Ms. Crane’s work made people think, alright! But it wasn’t an inspirational sort of thinking where we are challenged as in MLK’s “I Have a Dream!” speech. Everyone from Ms. Crane herself to the University and most everyone who saw it, understood that this was not designed to inspire me to think, it was designed to provoke me to react.

    Mostly, I think art is designed to elevate the human spirit and condition. Often it accomplishes this by depicting some outrage with the message being, “You can rise above this low place”. ‘Guernica’ and ‘Satan Devouring His Children’ would fall into this category.

    Or it can do so by astounding us with beauty and imagery that transcends our personal ‘low place’ and calls us ‘farther in and higher up’ as C.S. Lewis wrote in ‘The Voyage of the DawnTreader’. The masterpiece of God stretching out His finger to touch the upreaching finger of Adam from the aforementioned Cistine Chapel is such a work.

    Art is not something that just anyone can do. Many who have the skill lack the passion. Those with passion often lack skill. The fact that Ms. Crane’s project was undertaken as part of an Art class does not automatically grant it the status of Art.

    The class was, as I am given to understand, about Art in Politics. Why are we so focused on the ‘Art’ issue? Why isn’t everyone at the school jubilant that they provoked a political response? Wasn’t that also part of the assignment? That no one is talking about that leads me to believe the project was far less art than politics and that the appeal to art and the 1st Amendment is mere smoke to cover the intent.

    I hope my brief definition of ‘art’ helps clarify my thinking on the matter. Thanks for the question …

  2. That term gets tossed around a lot to cover all manner of bizarre activity including “Piss Christ” and Robert Maplethorpe’s “Fun Places to Put Whips”. One man’s Art is another man’s trash. Perhaps you don’t like Picasso. His work is art. Perhaps you don’t care for Van Gogh, still – it’s art. Putting flags down on the ground for people to walk on as art? I don’t like it and it’s not art.

    I’m not going to come down on one side or the other regarding the flag piece, but how exactly do you define “art”? I’ll grant you Picasso and Van Gogh (though in their day many surely thought of their work as “bizarre activity” and/or “trash”). What about Mondrian? Warhol? Pollock? My toddler’s scribblings in crayon?

    (Sorry, a little off topic, couldn’t resist.)

  3. Funky –

    Ignore the ad hominem all you like …

    You are absolutely right. Meaning and value are found in the individual. That I find value in the flag and humans in utero and you do not is totally acceptable to me. What you fail to realize is that just because two people have different values does not mean their values are morally equivalent. It is not that if you have different values than me you have no values as you so glibly quip. It is that my defense of the flag and the life of the unborn represent values that are superior to the values you have. The old description of a person as having “the morals of an alley cat” do not mean the cat has no morals, just that the ones it has are low. It is quite possible that you, in turn, have values superior to mine in some other areas. That is a matter for another conversation, however.

    I’m quite sure you have values that people have ridiculed you for holding. We all have things we believe that are distasteful to someone. I’m unclear on where you found me saying that makes those doing the ridiculing “unhuman”. You may want to check your facts. Your support for abortion and stem-cell research don’t hold out much hope that you have a grasp of what facts are but it never hurts to direct folks like you to them on occasion. Further, simply disagreeing with you or the UMF student doesn’t make her un-American. The fact that the disagreement takes place over the symbol of our country beneath which and for which tens of thousands have given their lives might do so. But disagreeing over the best sandwich at Burger King does not. Once again, I refer you to the facts of our discussion with my caveat on your ability to discern them.

    You stop short of calling the student’s exercise in ignorance art yourself. I won’t stop. It isn’t art in any accepted definition of the word. In fact, the display was conceived in response to encouragement to the student to express a social conscience. She wanted to see how many folks would walk on it and how many would not. That is Research or Statistics but it is not Art. That term gets tossed around a lot to cover all manner of bizarre activity including “Piss Christ” and Robert Maplethorpe’s “Fun Places to Put Whips”. One man’s Art is another man’s trash. Perhaps you don’t like Picasso. His work is art. Perhaps you don’t care for Van Gogh, still – it’s art. Putting flags down on the ground for people to walk on as art? I don’t like it and it’s not art.

    As far as the “America: Love it or Leave it!” argument goes, it has always baffled me why people with anti-American values stay here. My final conclusion is that they do so because they are, at their core, cowards with no real values or moral compass. They possess enough intelligence to know they would be imprisoned or killed should they express such values almost anywhere else in the world. They won’t leave the place they loathe because to do so is dangerous. But why stay here and work to undermine the very country that protects their right to do so? And why do so in the name of being patriotic and American? That’s sort of like slashing the tires on your car and pouring sugar in the tank in the name of getting to work on time because it’s really important for you to get that paycheck on Friday.

    I freely grant her the right to her opinion and expression of same. Millions of Americans have sworn their lives to guarantee that right. But please don’t try and equate her values as expressed by her “art” with the values of those whose sacrifice purchased it for her under the very banner she disgraces.

    Let’s take my assessment of her and people like her as ignorant out of the realm of politics, patriotism and the like and apply some good old fashioned common sense that applies regardless of the situation. There are reasons that folk wisdom advises not to “bite the hand that feeds you” and not to “do your business where you eat”. She has done both. That it’s in the realm of flag and country makes it all the more reprehensible but it’s ignorant on it’s face regardless.

    And that’s a fact …

    Blue

  4. Can’t you bloggers as “professional writers” (I use that term loosely) ever get your facts straight?

    It wasn’t a whole class of students, it was one student. I wasn’t a whole class involved in this one project and a whole curriculum based around it, it was a SINGLE student’s project.

    She’s also 40 years old, so it would be great if people would stop making generalizations about the younger generation. Thanks.

    -a UMF Student

  5. Allow me to reply to your comment! I will however ignore your ad hominem attack in the first paragraph. For your information: I have never taken any drug (and that’s including alcohol and tobacco!).

    While the flag is made of cloth, it is not “just a piece of cloth” and so without meaning or value. Your misdirection is the same as referring to a child in utero as “just a lump of tissue”.

    Meaning and value is in the eye beholder, a piece of cloth has no intrinsic value beyond being a colored fabric stitched into a pattern. And why yes, I do happen to be pro-choice and in favor of stem cell research!

    People get upset about it because the flag stands for something precious and dear to them. While the flag is obviously not one of them, you, too, have things for which you feel the same. Should those be ridiculed and desecrated you would have an emotional response as well.

    Yes, I have things that I hold dear, yes people make light of them. That does not mean I think the persons doing so are nonhuman or, god forbid, unamerican though!

    That someone intentionally disrespects something which is so obviously revered by so many and which is bound to provoke a response is indicative of intent. The student was not creating art. She was insulting and goading millions of Americans on purpose.

    Art isn’t art without feedback, which is an essential part of the process. And, as I said in my first comment, provoking a reaction like this is easy and a lazy course to take. That does not mean it’s not art, though.

    The only question is, to what purpose? If she was seeking her 15 minutes of fame, how tragic to throw it away on something like this. If she truly believes the flag and our country’s other symbols are really that irrelevant, why not move to a country whose symbols and values you can respect?

    Ahh, yes, the old “This is ‘Merica, if you don’t like it, you can get out!” defense. Maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t want to move to another country whose symbols and values she respects, because she does not believe in symbols such as flags? And I would see having, say, the freedom of expression, is a very, if not uniquely, American value. And that’s just exactly what she did.

    That she chooses to exercise that right in this fashion and that you support her in doing so is a testament to your moral and philosophical emptiness.

    Yes, because I do not have your exact morals and values, I must obviously have none. Exactly right.

  6. Ahhhh Funky …

    With a name like that you probably did too many hallucinogens early on. The proof of which I find in your comment.

    While the flag is made of cloth, it is not “just a piece of cloth” and so without meaning or value. Your misdirection is the same as referring to a child in utero as “just a lump of tissue”.

    People get upset about it because the flag stands for something precious and dear to them. While the flag is obviously not one of them, you, too, have things for which you feel the same. Should those be ridiculed and desecrated you would have an emotional response as well.

    That someone intentionally disrespects something which is so obviously revered by so many and which is bound to provoke a response is indicative of intent. The student was not creating art. She was insulting and goading millions of Americans on purpose.

    The only question is, to what purpose? If she was seeking her 15 minutes of fame, how tragic to throw it away on something like this. If she truly believes the flag and our country’s other symbols are really that irrelevant, why not move to a country whose symbols and values you can respect?

    It’s silly really. Should this empty headed woman attempt such antics in the vast majority of the rest of the world she would be jailed or executed! So much for the classification of a flag as “just a piece of cloth”. That we permit her to speak her mind here is a testament to our strength. That she chooses to exercise that right in this fashion and that you support her in doing so is a testament to your moral and philosophical emptiness.

    Blue

  7. There is no way to desecrate a flag, it’s only a piece of the cloth.

    The fact that people get upset about it is what makes it an effective piece of art, although admittedly a lazy one.

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