Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Putting an image on the end of a stick and waving it around adds emphasis that you don't get when the same image is lying flat on paper.

For example, soldiers aren't likely to follow a nice lithograph into battle no matter how tastefully it is framed. They would not die fighting to keep their enemies from taking down their country's oil painting. And while composers have written stirring songs to the "star spangled banner," no one seems to have been similarly moved by a star spangled silk screen print.

I don't know if this is due to the fact that moving images attract more attention than static ones, or that graphic symbols typically serve different functions when they are placed on a flag, or just the excitement of marrying a picture with the wind. But somehow images are a totally different artistic experience when they are placed on a banner in a parade, or a flag leading a charge, or a tapestry wafting in the breeze.

Here are some designs on flags and banners that I think are really splendid:

It would be hard to appreciate-- or even see-- the subtleties of these lovely designs once these banners are in use. You just have to remember what they looked like. In that sense, loose cloth is an odd medium for visual art. But I suppose the wind contributes its own designs; it may sacrifice detail but it gains a lot of drama.



Diego Fernetti said...

Don't forget that flags and pennats had an important practical use in military matters: they had to be easily recognized by the troops and served as a cohesive sign, both for manoeuvre large groups of soldiers in battlefields (which I suppose were quite confusing sometimes!) and also to inspire bravery to the troops since the banner had to lead every charge and movements of the armies. Hence the importance of the standard bearer, and the value of capturing enemy flags. the symbolic element was very strong and could turn the tide of a battle in seconds.
Designs were influenced by heraldry, but as you noted, there's a lot of difference in seeing a painted shield than a fluttering banner, it certainly looks like if an ideal can come alive.

11pm said...

I don't understand the temperance flag...partly because they're from another day and age.

There's a basket, and a rope or string. Do you know what that one means to the people who created it?

Kim said...

What beauties these are! Love this stuff.

Moon River said...

these are spledid, can you tell more about the source of the images you showed?


Anonymous said...

I love the way your mind works. Simple observations become profound. I know a lot of folks (mostly the guys) here write serious treatise and argue (not today though!!), but I just enjoy reading your words and looking at the pictures.

I view the world differently when I read your blog.


David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Diego!

11 pm, there are a number of these where the symbolism is completely lost on me. I don't know if you've ever seen ceremonial banners from lodges such as the Oddfellows but they have all kind of strange images-- eyeballs and pyramids and such-- where I think the content of the symbols is probably less intriguing than the fact that a secret code is being employed.

Kim and Moon River, thanks for writing. I'm glad you share my enthusiasm for these flags; this whole post is just an excuse to show off flag designs that I think are mighty fine. The first two are battle flags from state regiments in the US, from some time between te revolutionary and the civil war. The third flag is contemporary outsider art about a naval battle. The temperance flag is 20th century rural US. I don't know what the symbols mean. I believe the final flag is middle eastern but I am, not certain.

cp-- what can I say? You have rendered me speechless.

A Real Black Person said...

I think they're crap. C'mon. Seriously. Sometimes you're right on the money, when it comes to art and sometimes you glorify something vintage for the sake of it being vintage.

It's that kind of fetishizing of bad art that's really devalued art overall in the eyes of real world.

David Apatoff said...

Real Black Person-- I think you're going to have to do better than just the word "crap." These flags seem beautifully designed to me, with great color and composition. To the extent that some of them are old, I think the age has enhanced their beauty. For example, I love the way that second flag has come apart on the right hand side, eating into that palm tree image in the center. The fact that it is off center makes the flag look more modern. What is it about them that makes you think they are "crap"?

Anonymous said...

It's because the ___ in question lacks the attributes you're trying to imbue it with. It sounds as if you're grasping for straws..."the flag is off-center...so Modern" As if Modern was something for art to aspire to be these days. Bad art can be Modern without really trying.

David Apatoff said...

Real black person / Anonymous:
You complained that I "glorify something vintage for the sake of it being vintage," but when I say that it actually looks pretty modern to me, you shift and say, "As if Modern was something for art to aspire to be these days." I think you're going to have to decide which is more despicable, vintage or modern.

Personally, I think excellence comes in both flavors (as does mediocrity). For me, vintage and modern are more descriptive than evaluative adjectives.

Anonymous said...

Great post and observations.

The flag with the palmetto and beaver is the regimental flag of the 3rd Virginia Detachment and was used during the Revolutionary War. It is the earliest surviving documented American flag bearing 13 stars and was captured at the 1780 Battle of the Waxhaws in South Carolina by British Col. Banastre Tarleton. It was one of a group of four flags sold in recent years by a direct descendant of Tarleton's through Sotheby's to a private American collector for $17.4 million. For other flags of this period, visit http://www.vssr.org/flags.htm

David Apatoff said...

Finalsite-- wow! I am deeply impressed. And thanks for the link!